Over the centuries, there have been innumerable interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve. This week on the Daily, Stephen Greenblatt, the author of The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, retells some of these legends in modern idiom, and invents a few of his own.
The newly created humans were not only physically beautiful but also supremely wise. They understood, without being told explicitly, that the tree whose fruit God had forbidden them to eat was in itself neither particularly beneficial nor particularly harmful. There are no magical trees, except in fairy tales, and God did not place poisonous fruits in the Garden that He himself had planted. No, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which Adam and Eve were commanded to abstain, was indistinguishable from the other trees in Paradise in all respects save one. That one respect was the prohibition itself, as a sign of human obedience. If God had chosen some other object in the Garden on which to establish this sign, then the fruit would have been perfectly fine to eat. Why then was it called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Not to refer to any inherent quality in the fruit but only to refer to the result of transgression: the knowledge of the good that would have followed from obedience and the knowledge of the evil that resulted from the failure to obey. (Augustine)
There were many trees in the garden, each lovely to look at and good for food, but two trees at its midst were particularly notable: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, good, and evil. God told the human that he could eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, but He commanded him not to eat of the tree of knowledge, good, and evil: “For on the day you eat from it, you are doomed to die.” The human listened and grasped that something very important was being told to him, but it was only after the divine words had faded away that he realized he had no idea what the words “doomed to die” meant. He told himself to ask God for a proper explanation the next time he saw Him. Read More