Adam and Eve—Community: Reading Genesis 2-3
thinking about human community and its possibility at the beginning,
or almost at the beginning, one step after the immemorial beginning.1
The biblical story of the creation of Man ('adam) and Woman
('isha ) and their expulsion from the garden places humans
in the world in a particular way; it creates a habitation for human
life so that the history shared by humans and the story that manifests
community includes the possibility of gathering together all humans
as unique individuals rather than simply as members of a collective.
This story tells of God, humans, and community together: the creation
of human beings as other than God and, therefore, also from each
other, and the relevance of that insurmountable separation to community.
In short, the story tells of the coming-to-be of human being. In
doing so, it speaks of the divinity of humanity, a divinity that
finds its possibility, not in absorption into or in rebellion against
Deity, but in "standing across from" Deity - in distance: relation
as well as difference. As we will see, the story shows us the particularity,
otherness, and opacity that are an essential part of being gathered
together in community.
2. It has often been noted that Genesis begins
with two accounts of creation, roughly that of chapter one and that
of chapters two and three. Some point to this as evidence for the
fact that the text has its origin in other, more ancient texts,
and frequently those who see these two accounts consequently see
the text as contradicting itself. In the first, for example, human
beings are created late among things, on the last day of creative
work. In the second account, however, Man is created before anything
3. Of course, it is not to be denied
that the text did not spring up ex nihilo, created by a writer
without reference to previous texts. The redactor undoubtedly had
a number of texts to which he could refer in creating the Genesis
text, and he undoubtedly used works already familiar to him as sources.
Or it is conceivable that there was no individual redactor or set
of redactors, but only the solidifying of an oral tradition. For
our purposes, it does not matter. In either case it is too much
to assume that the final text is merely contradictory. There may
be contradictions within the text, but the more obvious those contradictions
are, the less likely it is that they are contradictions that undo
the text. It is too much to assume that the redaction of Genesis
was a product of blindness. A considerable amount of "cut and paste"
work was surely involved in the creation of the Genesis story, but
unless we can come to no other reasonable conclusion, we should
assume that the text is cut and pasted in this way rather than some
other for a reason. Thus, it would be a mistake to think that the
elements of the narrative merely contradict each other.3
The story we have before us is one text that calls to be
read as such, as I will.
4. It is an oversimplification to do so, but
I take Genesis two and three to be an account of the creation that
focuses specifically on the moral creation of human beings, so I
will deal primarily with chapters two and three. Nevertheless, there
are elements of Genesis one that we must deal with to understand
better the second account. I begin there with the account of the
sixth day of creation:
"God said: Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and
over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the
earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created
he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1.26-27)
In these verses, the creation of humans is set apart
from the rest of creation by several things. First, human creation
is introduced by a preamble, something absent from any other act
of creation. Second, Adamic persons are given rule over the rest
of creation. Third, the creation of humans is mentioned repetitively
(three times in Genesis 1.27). Finally, they are created in the
image of God.
5. The preamble to the creation of humans serves
notice that this is the creation of something different. At each
other moment, creation required only that God speak the name of
the thing. For example, "Let there be light: and there was light"
(Genesis 1.3). In this moment, however, the phrase, "let there be,"
is replaced with an extended phrase: "Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness." What God says is more counsel than command:
"Let us." Human creation is not a simple act of God's fiat; rather,
creation is a subject of consideration and discussion. This phrase,
"let us," creates difficulties for any monotheistic theology: if
there is only one God, with whom does he take counsel? There are
a variety of theological solutions to the problem, but since the
text rather than theology is our concern, I will not take them up.
However one deals with this verse theologically, the text is clear:
God creates humanity in response to others, rather than as a mere
act of self-will. Even in the beginning there is already relation:
there is no absolute beginning, not even in the beginning.
6. Not only does verse twenty-six say something
surprising about the beginning of the world - that it is not a metaphysical
beginning - it also says something different about the object of
creation that it describes. For the discussion of human creation
includes both the form of that which is created ("in our image")
and its place with regard to the rest of creation ("let them have
dominion"). From the beginning, humans are given a form, that of
divinity, and an ontological as well as spatial location, as those
who dominate creation. In verses fourteen and fifteen we see the
only similar reflection on creation: "Let there be light in the
firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let
them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and
let them be for light in the firmament of the heaven to give light
upon the earth." However, this earlier moment of creation discusses
the purpose rather than the form or place of the thing created.
Thus, the Genesis text goes out of its way to indicate that humans
are different than the rest of creation, and it tells us how they
7. The word translated dominion, rule, or
reign is part of the technical language of royal rule.4
Human beings are the queens and kings of creation. However, contrary
to some common ideas of what it means to be a king or queen, the
Israelite king was not merely a willful tyrant. The king was the
representative of the people before God. His righteousness brought
blessing on the nation, and his unrighteousness brought them to
ruin. The use of royal language shows not only the human position
with regard to the rest of creation as its ruler, but also that
in ruling over the world, humans are its gods, those through whom
creation is either condemned or destroyed. In this, humans are like
God: we and the world are judged through our dominion; God and the
world are justified by his. Genesis 2.15 underscores this point,
for it says that Man is put into the Garden of Eden to serve (dress
or till in most translations)5 and preserve it.
8. God has called each of the previous stages
of creation good, and he has said that creation as a whole is good
(Genesis 1.3), but human creation is not said to be good, even though
humans are part of creation as a whole. Perhaps that is because,
they are good or bad only as they exercise their dominion, in being
the representatives for creation before God. Perhaps they are good
or bad only as they serve and preserve creation as a whole. The
irony is that creation as a whole is good in that it has the possibility,
through human action, of being not good. The ethical indeterminacy
of human being qua human being makes the world as a whole good.
Contrary to what one expects, indeterminacy is prior to determinacy.
9. The preamble to human creation uses two words
to indicate the form that humans will take: likeness (dumuth)
and image (zelem ): "Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness" (Genesis 1.26). Though likeness can refer
broadly to anything from a vague similarity (as in Ezekiel 1.5 and
26), to a mode, or to an exact copy (as in Isaiah 40.18), image
is more difficult. In speaking of the word image, one commentator
has said: "Zelem refers to the personal relationship that
can only be found between 'persons.' The personality of man is placed
visavis the personality of God."6 As far as it goes,
this remark is helpful: human beings are made in the image of God's
person. But we can go further. The word zelem is seldom used
in the Bible, but when it is used, it seems to suggest visual representation
(as in Numbers 33.52 and Amos 5.26). In fact, the Septuagint translates
zelem (image) by the Greek word for the kinds of images
and likenesses one finds in pictures or statuary (eikon ).
We also know that the word image appears on a statue, referring
to that statue.7 Thus, the word image is less
ambiguous than is likeness , and it suggests more than mere
similarity. It emphasizes God's duplication in humans, including
visually. The anthropomorphism of this passage is inescapable,8
though it is more in harmony with the text to speak of the theomorphism
of human beings. Given the historical and cultural context of ancient
Israel, we can go so far as to say that the biblical text is arguing
against the anthropomorphism of its neighbors' gods in its
claim that humans are theopomorphic.9 The text intends
us to see humans as images of God (and so to rethink the character
of both humans and God). And it does not intend this duplication
to be merely metaphorical, as this use of the language of visual
representation shows. We are not merely inferior copies of God;
we are like him in a strong sense. Among other things, I will suggest
that this story says we are like God in being absolutely other,
though not alone, in other words, in being finally opaque and unassimilable
to comprehension, though always already in relation.
10. Irenaeus distinguishes between being in
the image of God to begin with and coming to be in his likeness.10
Though I see nothing in the text itself to create Irenaeus's distinction,
the text does contain a double movement: humans begin like God and,
at the same time, they come to be like him (as we will see in reading
Genesis 3). Since the first of these is formal, I use the term image
when referring to it. And following Irenaeus's terminology, if not
his exegesis, I use likeness to refer to the latter. The
story of these chapters is the story of how humans are, in their
very being, both in the image and the likeness of God: formally
they are the same as God (image ), and they are like him
in continuing to be other than him - opacity always remains (likeness).
11. It is important not to understand the image
as a mask or mere representation. As used here, an image is not
something that portrays a reality which stands behind it, as a photograph
might. To be in the image of God is not merely to represent God
visually (though I do not want to forget the theomorphism of the
passage). Rather, it is to incarnate him, to be an instance of him.
Thus, because the image is not a mere representation of something
else, we can say, quite literally, that it has nothing (no-thing)
behind it. The image of God, the human body, is sacred, untouchable,
because, like God himself, that visible image hides a nothingness,
an invisibility or opacity.
12. The invisibility that the image hides means
that each human being is essentially other than any other human
being, sufficiently so that we can say each is absolutely other
than any other: the difference between any two human beings cannot
be erased; it is absolute. This otherness must be clarified: Paul
Ricoeur distinguishes two kinds of identity: idem identity
and ipse identity. The former, idem identity, is the
sameness of two things that have identical characteristics. The
latter, ipse identity, makes it possible to identify something
as a self. A self must differ widely in its characteristics over
time, but there is still some sense in which it is the same as itself
and different from anything else ( ipse identity) while nevertheless,
in another sense, the same as others who are also the same as only
themselves (idem identity). The question of otherness is
a question of ipse identity: whatever the case with the characteristics
of two persons (or of one person over time), two persons cannot
have the same ipse identity, and that difference is absolute,
indissoluble.11 Absolute otherness is necessary to personhood,
per se, whether of God or human beings. In being absolutely other
- having ipse identity - humans image God - have idem
13. The biblical preamble to the creation of
human beings shows us personal being and communal being as co-evally
implicit in human being. Neither is the foundation for the other;
both are, together, human being. God makes human beings in his image:
to be human is to be in a relation of distance as well as to have
self-identity. To be a person is to be individuated and particular
(opaque) and to be in community with others, the first of
whom is God. Unlike Kierkegaard's herdsman, a human being is not
only a self in the eyes of cows. He is a self in the eyes of the
Divine. Just as the divine fiat, "Let there be . . ."
suggests the mystery and opacity of God (his individuality), those
whom he creates are individuals. At the same time, just as the divine
fiat, "Let us," suggests that God - as God - is not alone, those
whom he creates are not fundamentally alone.
14. We will see, however, that the imaging and
otherness of the first chapter of Genesis is incomplete. Though
we see that relation, being-toward another, is fundamental to both
divine and human being, we do not yet see the working out of this
imaging and otherness. The image and imaging of God are promised
in chapter one, but we do not yet see its actuality there, for the
actuality of the nexus of particularity and relation that makes
up human being must occur in life with other humans, in human experience.
That will come in chapter four and the pages that follow, with the
relations of Man, Woman, and their offspring in a human world. In
addition (and as a consequence), in verse twenty-six of chapter
one, we see only one side of the movement of human being: the Divine
is directed at humans, but they are not yet toward him. Thus, we
see the completion of creation only in the Genesis two and three,
in the completion of human creation as humans take up their relation
toward God. Nevertheless, the account of chapter one foreshadows
the completion of human creation in sexuality - Genesis three and
four - and that completion foreshadows what comes with sexuality,
namely the history of the world.
15. Made in the image of the Creator, humans
are sources of creation: immediately on the creation of human beings,
God commands them to be fruitful and multiply. Though this may be
a pleonastic pair or hendiadys meant to show us that we are to have
offspring, more seems to be contained in the notion of fruitfulness
than merely that (though sexuality too is an obvious example of
godlike creation - it is used by God in chapter three when he tells
Woman the results of knowledge). Fruitfulness includes, as well,
the idea of having consequence. If we think of fruitfulness with
respect to the dominion that has been given, the commandment to
be fruitful can be seen as a commandment to rule fruitfully over
the rest of creation.
16. Unlike Genesis one, the account
of creation in Genesis two and three tells us what humans are made
of - dust. Though we rule over the earth, we are, nevertheless,
of it. We are bound to the earth before leaving the Garden, not
only as those who serve and preserve the earth, but also as those
who are of the earth. Man, made in the Divine image and of
the dust, is placed in Eden, the center of the world, and given
the first prohibition: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying:
Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for
in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis
2.1617). Having God's uniqueness, individuality, and capacity for
creation and action, Man is prohibited from having the knowledge
of good and evil that is necessary to either ruling and being fruitful.
He is prohibited from having the necessary knowledge - though
it is made available - and he is warned that to have such knowledge
will bring death. Because he is not yet subject to death, Man is
incomplete. He is not yet wholly Man.
17. We might suppose that in not dying
Man would be most like God. But, the text suggests that if he were
to remain immortal, he would remain in the Garden, alone (even if
alongside Woman) and unfruitful. Immortal Man would be unable to
create and act in any full sense. He would be most un-like
God. Paradoxical as it may seem, the text suggests that to be like
God, Man must become mortal. (Notice that it is only after Man and
Woman eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and become subject
to death that God says man "has become as one of us," Genesis 3.22.)
Knowledge is inextricably bound to death. One can only have the
knowledge - ethical knowledge - that makes creation and action as
a human being possible if one is subject to death. Thus, it is death
that defines human being, for death makes it possible for humans
to become most like God. And, as Christianity understands this story,
it follows from the fact that humans are in the image of God and
that they must die that God, too, must die. Death is not the opposite
of divinity, for only death reveals the divine: only through death
can the beyond-the-image in the image be revealed. Death reveals
the nothingness behind the image.
18. The fourth chapter of Hegel's Phenomenology,
tells the story of how appetite seeks the death of its object and
how, as a result, the master and the slave fight to the death demanding
recognition. But, for Hegel, both the death of the master and the
death of the slave are overcome in human being: human being transcends
death. In contrast, in Genesis we see death as defining humanbeing.
Since human being is necessarily finite, the death that is overcome
in the Phenomenology is not human death; human being is not
the being in question for Hegel. In Genesis, however, we encounter
human death; Genesis marks off human being - and by implication
also the being of God! - by placing it within a finite context.
19. Since at least the beginning of the modern
period, we have thought of knowledge as certainty: to know something
is to have in one's mind the equivalent of a list of indubitably
true propositions about that thing. Biblical thinkers, however,
did not conceive knowledge in that way. It is a scholarly common
place that in the Hebrew Bible knowledge is fundamentally a matter
of intimacy and relation. Brown-Driver-Briggs gives these definitions
"1. a. know, learn to know, good or evil [. .
.]. b. perceive [. . .]; c. [. . .] find out and discern
[. . .]. d. discriminate, distinguish [. . .]. e. know
by experience [. . .]. f. recognize, admit, acknowledge,
confess [. . .]. 2. know a person, be acquainted with
[. . .]. 3. know a person carnally [. . .]. 4. a. know
how to do a thing [. . .]. b. be skillful in, [. . .]
learned [. . .]. 5. abs. have knowledge, be wise."12
It is not difficult to see that knowledge by experience
and acquaintance is basic to these definitions. In the Hebrew Bible
knowledge is less an epistemological matter than it is an ethical/political/social
matter. Knowledge is a matter of relating to others and to the world,
in experience and acquaintance. But, since our relation to God defines
what it means to be related to others and to the world, in the Hebrew
Bible knowledge is ultimately a religious matter, a matter of one's
relation with God.
20. Thus, when Genesis 4.1 says, "And Adam knew
Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain," the word know
is a not used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The word translated
know (yada') is not used to describe the mating of
animals in the Bible, nor are euphemisms familiar to its writers.
In the Bible, sexual intercourse is paradigmatic of human knowledge.
Yada' is the word for both knowledge and sexual intercourse
because the embodied character of knowledge is inscribed in that
word. In this story, Man and Woman will not learn, in an academic
sense, the characteristics of good and evil so that they can give
a rational account of the two. The knowledge of good and evil is
not necessarily conceptual knowledge of any sort. Instead, they
will come to that knowledge by encounter and acquaintance. But to
know good and evil in that way requires death and sexuality.
21. Having prohibited Man from obtaining a knowledge
of good and evil, God immediately provides the means for disregarding
the prohibition. Declaring that it is not good for Man to be alone,
God brings all of the animals of the earth to Adam to be named.
Several things happen here. First, Man is given part in the creation
of the world when God asks him to name the animals. Second, Man
sees that he is not the same as any of the creatures brought before
him: in seeing that there is no companion among them for him, he
sees his incompleteness (and the incompleteness of creation) and
the necessity of his relation to another, Woman. That results in
the creation of Woman, bringing closer the expulsion from the garden
and the beginning of history.
22. Genesis one suggests that humans become
good or bad only through their responsibility, their action. But,
before Man has even begun to act, God says, using an emphatic negative,
that Man's situation, his aloneness, is not good, and God moves
from pronouncing that situation not good to Man's naming of the
animals. Man takes part in the creation: though the world and its
animal inhabitants exist, and though there is a human being in that
world, the creation is not finished. In chapter one, God creates
and names the light and darkness (Genesis 1.5), the expanse of firmament
(Genesis 1.8), and dry land and the seas (Genesis 1.10). The only
element of creation that he does not name are animals, specifically
leaving that to Man, which suggests Man's procreative work: with
God, he is cocreator of the world. This clarifies the notion of
dominion considerably by suggesting how Man's dominion is both a
rule over the world and a representation of it before God: as cocreator,
humans have dominion over the world, but in that dominion, in making
the world either good or bad - in other words, in their cocreation
of it - they must stand to be judged of God. To the world, human
beings are gods. But to God, we are the intermediary for the world,
that in which it has its being or its negation.
23. Seeing each of the animals, Man sees that
among them there is no companion to him. None of the animals is
in God's image; as yet, neither is Man, for he is not yet the adam
spoken of in Genesis 1.26, the adam who is male and female,
the adam who can be fruitful and multiply. The Divine has
described merely individual Man as emphatically not good: without
another, Man is not yet human. Alone in the Garden of Eden, he is
not yet in the image of God. As Man names the animals, he can see
that none of them is the other that will make creation complete.
24. As we have seen, the creation of human beings
in Genesis one was not the act of a lone individual (Genesis 1.26).
God's creation of human beings was an act of being-toward. Though
radically other in that he cannot be reduced to or encompassed by
any human being, the God of Genesis one is also among and with.
As he names the animals, Man finds no other that he can be-toward
as God is toward him. He has no community. Existing in a solipsistic
universe, Man's imaging of the Divine remains meaningless; Man is
not yet really like God in either image or likeness. Being in his
image and likeness requires being-toward. For that, Man needs another
25. To fill the gap in creation that Adam has
discovered, and thereby to make human being possible, God creates
Woman. Though the phrase he uses to describe her is often translated
"help meet" or "appropriate helper" (Genesis 2.18), it means, literally,
a "helper over against" or "another who helps," emphasizing the
necessity to human being of the other. Individual existence is emphatically
not good until it is no longer merely individual, until there is
another who stands across from the individual, one toward whom one
can be. Genesis 1.26 placed Man and Woman vis-a-vis God and
he commanded them to produce after their kind. Now God creates Woman
from Man, and in the face to face relation of Woman and Man the
possibility of obedience to the command to be fruitful comes about.
26. The community that includes all humans is
possible, not only because post-Edenic humans spring from common
parents. That would give human community a merely historical origin.
More importantly, human community is possible because even the primeval
parents spring from the same source, a source that is itself not
reducible to a mere singularity. Man is the creation of God; Woman
is the creation of God. They are separate and exclusive individuals,
but they are also individuals with a common, though in an important
sense multiple source. Man and Woman can cleave or be bound to one
another - they can have their being in being-toward-one-another
- and "they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2.24).
27. Like Aristophanes's tale in Plato's Symposium,
an old Jewish understanding of this account has it that rather than
creating Woman from the rib of Man, God originally created a bisexual
being from whom Man and Woman were separated, standing over against
one another.13 For our discussion, however, it makes
little if any difference to the meaning of the text to choose either
of the two interpretations over the other. In either case, Woman
is "bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2.23). In
either case, Man and Woman are to be bound to one another - they
are to be-toward one another - and "they shall be one flesh" (Genesis
28. But, in what way are Woman and Man one flesh?
The most literal meaning, of course, is that Woman was created from
the flesh of Man: biologism. Sexual intercourse is also an obvious
meaning of becoming one flesh, and it takes relatively little to
think of spiritual union as well. But the Hebrew word translated
flesh can mean not only meat. Among other things,
as the parallel between heart and flesh, and their
joint parallel to soul, in Psalms 84.2 strongly suggests,
flesh can also denote one's very being, one's identity, both
body and soul. Thus, Genesis 2.24 indicates that Man and Woman are
to be one in every sense. They must be in community; their
relation to each other must imitate their relation to God in its
commonality and sameness as well as its otherness and opacity. But
the oneness of Man and Woman, their commonality and sameness, cannot
be understood reductively, as if what makes each what she or he
is is a shared essence, a totality that encompasses them, depriving
them of their individuality and difference. That reduction would
deny their likeness of God.
29. The problem of community first appears explicitly
in Genesis 2.24, in that Man and Woman are to become one
flesh. Woman is made from the flesh of Man. Even so are all humans
made from the flesh of Man and Woman. That biological unity, however,
does not make them one. Like Man, Woman is made uniquely in the
image of God, as indeed are all human beings. Woman and Man are
and will remain other than one another; each is infinitely opaque.
Any account of human being, then, must take into account both the
non-biological communality of human being, something to be striven
for, and the opacity of individual humans. The world has begun with
humans who are both the same and other. The creation story tells
us that the community to be established must be a unity that is
not merely biological and that does not deny the opacity of the
individuals who are in community. The community must avoid elevating
commonality and thereby becoming mere collectivity, and it must
avoid as well elevating individuality into mere acosmism. If there
is to be community, it must hold sameness and otherness jointly
as "fundamental," though reason will find it impossible to hold
them together and will, therefore, continue to demand a reduction
of one to another or a synthesis of the two. An appropriate image
is that of Heraclitus, the image of the bow (fr. 51): opposites,
the two directions of force in the bow, give the bow its existence
- but we seem only to be able to conceive the opposites and not
30. The seemingly parenthetical note of Genesis
2.24 not only shows us that human being is communal, it also prefigures
the expulsion of Man and Woman from the garden: "Therefore shall
a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto each
his wife." Man and Woman will be forced to leave their father and
mother - in this case God - and cleave to each other: in order to
be human Man and Woman must leave the divine communion of
paradise to live in community with others. In other words, they
must die; they must live in history. We have already seen that knowledge
and death are inseparably linked (Genesis 2.16-17). It is not simply
that Man and Woman have the option of remaining immortally in the
garden in ignorance or leaving with knowledge to die. But- if their
lives are to be meaningful, if they are to be bound to one another,
if they are to be fruitful, if they are to escape the emphatic negative
with which God has judged the situation of one alone, in other words,
if they are to be human - they must live in community and they must
do so estranged from God.
31. Such a life in community demands both creation
and action, and that requires, in turn, that Man and Woman partake
of the fruit of knowledge and become subject to death. Remaining
in the garden immortally - alone forever, even while they are alongside
one another, alone because they have not left the mother and father
and, therefore, cannot cleave to one another - would be real death.
That is what must be avoided. The expulsion from the garden is,
thus, not the consequence of a moral fall. It is the fulfillment
of the creation of humanity. To remain would have been a fall.
32. The event that culminates in the expulsion,
or – better - the birth into the world, begins with the serpent's
question to Woman: "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every
tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3.1). In answer, Woman repeats the
prohibition given,14 and the serpent says, "Ye shall
not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof,
then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing
good and evil" (Genesis 3.45).
33. Common Christian understanding notwithstanding,
the serpent does not baldfacedly lie to the woman. He is not merely
evil. In the first place, his statement that they will not die is
ambiguous. It can also mean, "It is not certain that you will die."
But, without considering the ambiguity, at face value there is a
great deal of truth in what he says to her: their eyes are opened
(Genesis 3.7), and eating the fruit does make Man and Woman "as
gods, knowing good and evil" (see Genesis 3.22). There are several
ways to understand what the serpent says, but however we understand
it, if we take day in its ordinary meaning (a period of twentyfour
hours), the serpent tells the truth when he says that they will
not die in the day they eat of the fruit.
34. The deceptiveness of the serpent's speech
to Woman does not lie in his claim that by eating Woman may become
like God. Neither is the serpent's claim that she will not die in
the day that she eats of the fruit clearly deceptive. The only way
to make what the serpent says a lie would be to decide the ambiguity
by taking it to mean that her death at some time is not a certainty.
He lies if he tells her that she can be human in the Garden. The
serpent's deception is, therefore, not so much the content of what
he says at it is his interpretation of God's motives as mere covetousness
and his equation of godliness with defiance. The serpent's lie is
his implication that God does not want Man and Woman to establish
community among themselves and between themselves and God, that
God has no intention of completing the creation of Man and Woman.
The serpent implies that God wants his existence to be exclusive
of Man and Woman, that he wishes them to be without likeness to
him, that he does not want them to become as he is. But Genesis
one has already shown us that he does want them to become
as he is. God is not himself acosmic - he is not alone; his being
is toward - and he does not wish human beings to be acosmic. The
message that Genesis gives us in the serpent's temptation of Woman
is that to refuse community and its divine ground is sin.
35. Seeing that "the tree was good for food,
and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to
make one wise,"15 Woman eats some of its fruit and gives
it to Man to eat as well.16 As the serpent has predicted,
they receive the knowledge of good and evil. Now they have experience
of it; they have confronted it personally.
36. Previously, without knowledge, Man and Woman
were not ashamed of their nakedness (Genesis 2.25). Now, with knowledge,
ethical knowledge, they understand that nakedness, their exposure,
and they make girdles of fig leaves for themselves. Without the
knowledge of good and evil, they had been merely individuals and,
therefore, had not been toward-the-other, they could previously
have been neither exposed nor ashamed. Their being would have been
only toward themselves. Though shame is a form of selfconsciousness
(in the ordinary sense of that word), it is only possible in relationship,
in the presence of another. Thus, Man's and Woman's lack of shame
was a sign that prior to eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil, they did not have human being. But with their
acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil, they become human
and can feel shame. Man's and Woman's shame, however, is not merely
the shame of their nakedness as they stand before one another. It
is also shame before God. They are exposed not only to one another,
they are exposed to God. And in response to their exposure they
hide in the trees from Gods presence.
37. Now the promise that they should die in
the day in which they ate the fruit is fulfilled. Though, as the
serpent promised, their physical death does not occur in that day,
their spiritual death does. Having been made in God's image, having
their personalities placed vis-a-vis that of God, and having lived
in a world in which God could come walking in the cool of the day,
Man and Woman have taken of the fruit of the knowledge of good and
evil and must be separated from God; they must die from him. The
irony is that the death that God foretold is their birth into human-
and god-being. As the end of Genesis 2 explains, in order to become
like God, in order to cleave to one another, Man and Woman must
be separated from God. They must exist as individuals in community
between themselves, and that community, though it has its base in
the Divine and is created and supported by him, must occur in the
mortal rather than the divine sphere.
38. The necessary death is both physical and
spiritual. Humans are defined not only by their mortality, but also
by their separation from God. But separation from God - spiritual
death - and physical death have in them the seeds of human community,
for these two deaths and the ever-recurring "death" of possibilities
that is inherent in human action make possible the human imitation
of God and therefore human glorification. Within the continual "dyings"
and "births" of action, humans live out both their mortality and
their alienation from God. Mortality and finitude show the importance
of the moment: community is something that we must work for between
ourselves and between ourselves and God, now. It cannot wait. Our
mortality constantly reminds us that we cannot finish the infinite
task of binding ourselves into a human community nor that of binding
our human community to God; our being in the likeness of God constantly
reminds us that we must continue to work to do so.
39. While they hide in the bushes, God calls
to them, "Where art thou?" (Genesis 3.9). This is a call like that
made later to Abraham (Genesis 22.1), Moses (Exodus 3.4), and Isaiah
(Isaiah 59.9). As Martin Buber points out, God does not expect to
learn something that he does not know. He wants to produce an effect
in Woman and Man that can only be produced by such a question.17
The question shows Man and Woman the difference made by their knowledge
of good and evil, a knowledge they understand as yet only as shame,
as recognition of their exposure. In eating of the tree, Man and
Woman have believed the serpent's lie. They have seen themselves
as individuals and they have understood individuality as exclusionary:
at least implicitly, they have believed that God does not want them
to be like he is. Therefore, they have also believed that they can
only make themselves like him by an act of opposition, by a negation
of their relation. The consequence of that belief, however, is a
recognition of their exposure and consequently shame. Now rather
than standing before him in their integrity, rather than replying
"Here am I," as will Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah, Man and Woman hide
themselves "from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees
of the garden" (Genesis 3.8). With the final similarity to God and
the creation of the possibility of human community - with the knowledge
of good and evil - comes the possibility of guilt associated with
the failure to work for that community. Though the possibility of
community has been born, Man and Woman have accented their individuality
as something over against community with God.
40. We see, too, that they have accented their
individuality to the exclusion of each other. For, Man's reply to
God's question, "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded
thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (Genesis 3.11) seems to be an
attempt to absolve himself by blaming Woman- and even God: "You
gave me Woman, and she gave me the fruit." In return, her
response seems to blame the serpent. Though they must leave their
father and mother to cleave to one another, we do not see Man and
Woman cleaving to anyone yet. That comes in chapter four. Instead
we see them denying their community with each other, just as, in
their defiance, they denied their community with God.
41. Responsibility and shame come because the
possibility of community is also the possibility of alienation.
In this case, Man and Woman have chosen both community and alienation.
They have chosen alienation from God because only in that alienation
is human community possible. Thus, broadly conceived, human exposure
and responsibility are inescapable, even if shame is not. Man and
Woman feel shame before each other and God because the alienation
to which they have come is grounded in defiance, in the negation
of the other. But even without defiance there is separation, difference,
between each of the pair, and between each and God, and that separation
is necessary if the otherness of each and that of God is meaningful.
Man and Woman must be separated from the Divine if they are to image
the Divine, but separation necessarily carries with it the possibility
of alienation. In fact, without community, separation necessarily
is alienation. The sense of separation and the possibility
of alienation it contains is the possibility of responsibility and
the failure to meet that responsibility. In learning that they are
like God in otherness and depth, Man and Woman come to know the
possibility of failed responsibility, part of the possibility of
42. However, Woman and Man also learn that their
separation is the ground of human and divine community; if they
were not other than one another and did not have infinite depth
and opacity (two ways of saying the same thing), community would
not be possible.18 If our imaging of God did not include
our particularity and opacity, at best we would be like him in having
idem identity; we could not be individuals having ipse
identity. But if we could not be individuals, then we would not
be like him. We could have neither idem nor ipse identity;
we could not be at all. Thus, otherness is necessary, the otherness
of persons, both divine and human. Commonly we understand there
to be only two possible relations to God: idem identity or
alienation. We see here that this dichotomy is mistaken. We cannot
have an identity relationship to the Divine; he does not swallow
us up. But the otherness that results from the absence of that identity
is not the otherness of simple alienation (though it can seem to
be if we are defiant, if we refuse community). The real choice is
between community and alienation (the refusal to live the relationship
that is "always already" there). Both of these alternatives have
their ground in the otherness and opacity of human- and god-being.
43. Woman is told that the consequence of her
knowledge of good and evil is pain, and Man is told that the consequence
of his knowledge is labor. But these are not as distinct as they
might at first seem to be. The fact that the pain of childbirth
is, in English, called labor is helpful. The words are also
closely related in Hebrew. In fact the Samaritan Pentateuch uses
the same word for both.19 God does not say essentially
different things to Man and Woman. What he says to one he says to
44. The pain of childbirth is a particularly
appropriate beginning. For both creation and relation are represented
in it. Knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge
that brings mortality, makes pain possible. Pain naturally accompanies
all creation and is at least possible in all relation. Pain is similar
to what I have called guilt, and it is one way to describe shame.
In addition, the pain of childbirth is not only a coming into being-toward-another,
the child. It is clearly a consequence and continuation of being-toward-another,
the father. Woman does not create and live in the world as merely
an individual. God tells her that her desires - the root of her
creation and relation - will be to her husband, and in this we see
a representation of the fundamentality of community. To be human
is necessarily to be toward-another. But that necessarily carries
with it pain, both the pain involved in creation and the possible
pain that can come through alienation, the failure of relation -
exposure. To escape pain, of either kind, would be to cease to be
human. And, as we have seen in this story, the escape from pain
is impossible even for God. Being in relation to us, he cannot escape
the pain of alienation that comes in any refusal by one of his children
to be in community, nor can he escape the pain of separation and
otherness that is necessarily part of having created us. God cannot
remove pain from the world without the annihilation of human- and
god-being. And since, as chapter one shows us, human- and god-being
are that through which even entities have their being, God could
not remove pain without there ceasing to be a world. God must not
only die, he too must weep (John 11.35; see also, from Latter-Day
Saint scripture, Moses 7.29-31).
45. Labor too is an essential part of human-being.
Following Alexandre Kojčve, I distinguish between labor and toil.20
Toil is merely the attempt to satisfy one's own desires. Prior to
their knowledge of good and evil, prior to coming to being-toward
each other and God, Man and Woman were required to serve the garden
and preserve it (Genesis 2.15), but they were not able to do so
meaningfully. True, they could work in it, but their work would
have been unconscious and self-gratifying toil. True labor is done
only in relation to another (and it must include the otherness and
depth of the other). Only in labor rather than toil can one have
human being. The Hebrew word for work, avodah (which is etymologically
related to the word translated "serve" in Genesis 2.15), can equally
well be translated service. Labor is both concomitant with
creation and required by relation. Thus, community is pervaded by
labor as well as pain.
46. Only at the end of chapter three is the creation
complete. Genesis 2.5 tells us that the earth and the heavens had
been made, as had the plants. But there was not yet "a man to till
[or serve] the ground." From there to the end of chapter three,
we see the development of human being, the development of Man and
Woman into beings who can labor, who can till the ground. However,
only after Man and Woman have the knowledge of good and evil is
there any mention of tilling (by implication in Genesis 3.19 and
explicitly in 3.23).21 Thus, this story of the moral
creation of humans is only complete when humans are able to labor.
Verse twenty emphasizes this, for Eve is not named (created) until
after God's explanation to her and to Man that pain and labor will
follow from their having knowledge - and Man is never named. Now
that creation, signified by Woman's ability to bear children, is
possible, and now that labor has been introduced into the world,
Woman can be named. Now her creation is complete, at least insofar
as a creature who is essentially being-toward can be said to be
47. Eve is the mother of all living.
Through her, life has come to the world - to her, to Man, to everything.
In that sense, though Eve is created from the flesh of Man, she
is also the creator of Man as fully human. To ask who was created
from whom would be pointless. Standing "across from" one another,
they each create the other, and through their labor together they
create the world.
48. Previously Eve and Man had been ashamed
of their nakedness, of the exposure of their bodies. In an attempt
to remedy their shame, they made fig leaf aprons to cover themselves,
a poor covering at best. Now God makes genuine clothes for them
(Genesis 3.21). Without God's work, they could do no more than try
to remedy their ignorance. Though the point is arguable, Benno Jacob22
says that the word translated make in Genesis 3.21 is used
almost exclusively in reference to the creations of God.23
However, it is not the word used to speak of the creation of the
world and its various parts in Genesis one. Its use here, then,
is strange. Except for the fact that God makes this clothing, there
seems nothing special about its creation. But that is an important
exception: clothing is the only cultural artifact whose creation
is ascribed to God. All other artefactual creations are attributed
to human beings (cf. Genesis 4.1722).24 God's creation
of clothing for Man and Woman stands out from the text, perhaps
to show that they are unable to remove their shame themselves, to
show that their exposure can be covered only by the Divine. Having
defied God, having refused to be in community, they cannot remedy
their error without his intervention. To be human is to be a god,
but being human, one cannot simply will to overcome alienation from
God. Alienation from God can only be cured by God himself, though
the cure is not simple absorption into him. The cure of alienation
is not the overcoming of otherness. For mortals, it is not reunion
with God, it is labor with other humans.
49. The nakedness of Man and Woman is often read
as referring to their ignorance, their ungodliness. In chapter two
they are innocently ungodly and, therefore, unashamed. They are
not exposed because, not yet being human, they cannot know of their
mortality and exposure. In chapter three, however, with the knowledge
of good and evil, they come to know that they are mortal rather
than divine and, consequently, they are ashamed. They try to absolve
themselves of that ungodliness, but can only manage the scanty covering
of an apron. Only God can clothe them; only he can remove their
shame and overcome the alienation and exposure that has come with
their separation from him. Man's and Woman's denial of God was the
denial of their community with him, their denial that he was with
them. It was the beginning of human being and the introduction of
alienation. But there is no way to will oneself out of alienation.
The denial of the ground reduces one to acosmism, and there is nothing
within an acosmic world from which one could create community. Only
an act of God can give us the power to be once again at one with
him and others, to be in community again. But God's saving act,
his creation of community occurs only with human beings. In other
words, he creates community only with those who are fully human,
who have left his presence and to labor in the world with other
50. Thus, God performs the divine investiture,
he robes Man and Woman in divine garments, and having done so can
say, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."
An alternate translation is, "Behold, he is become like the unique
One among us."25 The story is an affirmation of human
personality as imaging that of God in its uniqueness and individuality.
But it is also an affirmation of human existence in community and,
therefore, of human existence as the likeness of God, that for which
one works. Now, just as he did as in Genesis 1.26, God takes counsel.
The parallel of Genesis 1.26 and 3.22 marks the latter as an event
of creation, and in the creative act God reveals both his own being
and human as communal.
51. Common Christian exegesis again notwithstanding,
this is not an account of the human fall from a paradisiacal state.
We do not see here a story of how humans have been condemned for
having frustrated the plans and purposes of God. In the discussion
of the necessity of leaving the garden to be bound to one another
(Genesis 2.24), we have already seen that this is no unfortunate
fall. Further evidence for this is implicit in the discussion of
the necessary "completion" of the creation in labor. But notice
also that nowhere in the text do we find the word sin. And,
the socalled curses given to Man and Woman do not have the form
of a legal penalty.26 If we see that the introduction
of death is also a birth (into the human world and the possibility
of genuine human and, thus, godly existence among humans), then
we see that Genesis 1-3 is an account of creation, not of creation
52. However, the creation of the world that is
completed in the creation of Man and Woman and their separation
from God is not something finished. For the labor of being-toward
cannot be finished or it would cease to be being-toward-another.
Creation is only complete in the sense that any individual is complete
at his or her birth: our image is complete, but our likeness is
not. Only historical existence - labor for and with others in community;
being in the likeness of God - can take us beyond our image. Nothing
can bring an end to that labor except absolute death, a possibility
that always lies beyond human being.
53. Human being is to act, and the story of
Man and Woman in the garden leads us to the full human ability to
act. God has commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis
1.28). Now fruitfulness - which requires human action - is possible.
That would seem to be why chapter four begins, "And Adam knew Eve
his wife; and she conceived and bare Cain." This clause is a summary
of the creation of humans: they have knowledge in which they are
in relation to one another, and through those relations they can
be fruitful. Implicit in all of this is the grounding in the Divine:
"I have gotten a man from the Lord" (Genesis 4.1).
54. The story of creation in Genesis lays the
foundation for an understanding of the relationship of humans in
community by pointing to Man and Woman as unique individuals bound
to each other, and in potentia, to all others in community
without absorption. From this theme springs a major theme of biblical
writers, namely the return to true community.27 In order
for such a return to occur, humans must recognize themselves as
created in the express image of God: in the image of God, unique,
and potentially fruitful because they know good and evil. They must
recognize themselves as bound to each other by their being, by pain,
and by labor.
1. This remains a draft rather than a finished piece.
2. To remain true to the text, I will use the word Man as a translation of the multi-valenced term
'adam. However, when speaking of human beings generally, I will use gender neutral language.
3. Cf. Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part I from Adam to Noah Genesis I-IV8
, Trans. Israel Abrahams, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 84-96.
4. Bruce Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading, (New York: Doubleday, 1977), 57.
G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz Josef Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Trans. Douglas W. Stott, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), X:376-405.
Dat Umadda (Religion and Science) 265. Quoted in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in the Book of Genesis, Trans. Aryeh Newman, (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1972), 2.
7. I am grateful to Paul Y. Hoskisson for pointing this out. See also: C. Dohmen, "Die Statue von Tell Fecherije unde die Gottesenbildlichkeit des Menschen. Ein Beitrag zur Bilderterminologie," BN,
22 (1983), 91-96; J.C. Greenfield and A. Shaffer, "Notes on the Akkadian-Aramaic Bilingual Statue from Tell Fekherye," Iraq, 45 (1983),109-116; A.R.
Millard and P. Bordreuil, "A Statue from Syria with Assyrian and Aramic Inscriptions." Biblical Archaology, 45
(1982), 135-141; and V. Sasson, "The Aramaic Text of the Tell Fekhariyah Assyrian-Aramaic Bilingual Inscription," ZAW 97 (1985a), 86-103.
8. Bruce Vawter, 55.
9. Michael Fishbane,
The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 50ff.
10. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, v.vi.i.
11. Much of the difficulty of discussing the problem of identity comes from the difficulty of separating these two notions of identity. If personal identity is taken to be a matter of idem
identity, then it will be impossible to discuss the identity of one person over time, much less the identity of two people.
12. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Eds.
The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic, (Oak Harbor WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2000, c1906), 395.1.
13. Part of the rabbinic version of the story probably stems from the identification of "Man" in chapter five with both male and female, a reflection of the plural in chapter one, "male and female created he them
" (Genesis 1.27).
14. Notice, though it is not especially relevant to our discussion, that Woman changes the prohibition in several ways, but particularly by adding to it, "neither shall ye touch it" (Genesis 3.3).
15. Jacob says that knowledge is listed last because it was the least of her desires. See Benno Jacob, The First Book of the Bible: Genesis
, Ed. and Trans. by E. I. Jacob and W. Jacob, (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1974), 25. Perhaps, but it may also be taken as no more than an indication of her inability to see the relative importance of
knowledge as compared to being good for food and desirable to the eyes, an inability resulting from the fact that she is not yet fully created.
16. Because Paul says that Man was not deceived, but Woman was (1 Timothy 2.14), much has been said in Christianity about Woman "succumbing" to temptation and then "tempting" Man - as if Woman is more responsible
than Man in introducing sin into the world. Whatever we make of Paul's assertion, Genesis itself does not make such
a claim. In the first place, an etiology of sinfulness is not part of the story. Man and Woman have the possibility of
transgression from the beginning, or the prohibition God gives in Genesis 2.17 makes no sense, in which case
Woman cannot have transgressed that prohibition. But, suppose that she did bring sinfulness into the world through
an act for which she was not responsible. Then it is something she did not really do. It is not really one of her acts, so
it is not an explanation of the origin of sin. In the second place, we see in the story no attempt by the redactor to
place blame. In fact, if there is an attempt to place blame (perhaps Genesis 3.12-13), the text shows that attempt to be
negative. The story is about Man and Woman, but we see them only one at a time because the literary conventions
of Genesis require that conversation occur between only two people at a time. Thus, the sequence we see in chapter
three suggests nothing about the relative merits of either Man or Woman or about the origin of the possibility of sin. In addition, Genesis 5:1, by naming both Man and Woman with the word man - adam
- goes out of its way to make it difficult for us to simply identify references to man or Adam as specific references to the male of this primal couple.
17. Martin Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man,
Trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Harper and Row, 1958), 133.
18. Without otherness and opacity only idem identity is possible.
19. BruceVawter, 85.
20. Alexandre Kojčve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel:Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans. James H. Nicholas, (New York: Basic Books. 1969), 42, 227-228.
21. I take it that the work of the garden was merely keeping up and preserving what was already there. It was not labor, and would not seem to have needed tilling.
22. Benno Jacob, 1.
23. It also frequently has the sense of ethical obligation, and it is the word used in such places as Exodus 23.22,
Leviticus 19.37, and Deuteronomy 6.18 when God is said to make a covenant with Israel. See R. Laird Harris, L. Archer Gleason Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
, 2 vols, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 701.
24. In fact, the others are attributed not just to humans, but specifically to the descendants of Cain - except for the
creation of clothing, technology is descended from Adam through Cain.
25. Cf. John Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 117-118.
26. Benno Jacob, 27.
27. Cf. Isaiah and his call to come forth from physical and spiritual Babylon so Israel can have being once again.