In the book of Genesis God is said to have created two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. After Eve ate of the apple as Adam did as well, they were cast from the Garden forever. Two Cherubim were posted as guard around the Tree of Life, preventing humanity from ever tasting of its fruits.
Ancient Near Eastern Scholars Gordon and Rendburg have suggested Good and Evil as a merism. Essentially the translation should read more like this: with knowledge, both good and evil. The tree was a way of knowing all things, as all can be contained between good and evil.
Strange as it is for us, knowledge was more tempting than eternal life. Eve was compelled to sample the forbidden fruit. Compelled towards a knowledge of a great many things.
In Christian Theology the serpent is equated with Satan, thanks to an obscure passage in Revelation that for many connects the two. But by filling in “Satan” here the passage becomes theology rather than meaningful mythology.
Here’s what I mean. The serpent is understood to represent deceit in Abrahamic religions. The serpent almost represents a trickster, the breaks the rules of the Gods archetype that somehow ends up unintentionally helping humanity. The serpent became the conduit for the destruction of humanity’s innocence but in so allowed the opportunity to be like God and know a great many things, both good and evil. Genesis was written before Judaism had a concept of Satan. For them, all good and bad comes from God, as evidenced by a wealth of passages that say that very thing.
Adam and Eve had their eyes opened. They saw that they were naked. They felt shame. They became human!
This story, to me, is not the story of the “fall” into sin. This is the story of the human species becoming humanity. This is the story of a species becoming its full potential, warts and all. The snake, though perhaps out for its own good, allowed humanity to take shape and form, becoming self aware and conscious of itself – very human characteristics.
The story is attributed with “original sin”, a phrase that does not actually exist in the Bible. The phrase itself came about by means of St Augustine. But he didn’t make this up in the first place.
Augustine was nearly a priest in the religion of Mani, the Gnostic sect of Manichaeism, before converting to Christianity. As Mani, before becoming a prophet, led a wild life, much like Augustine, he in his writing and theology began to see humanity as sick and twisted, despicable before the eyes of God. He spoke of “original sin” filling humanity with the sickness and wickedness of evil.
Augustine carried this concept into Christianity, where it was fully accepted by the Church. We, as humanity, were wicked and evil, and became this way, conscious or not, through the act of original sin.
Humanity’s story in Genesis is not one of wickedness and evil. If we really wanted to be literal here, why did God create the world in which humanity would take such a horrible step? Why create the tree or trees?
We could not be fully like God, the story tells. Either we could have eternal life like God or we could have knowledge like God. The story tells that we chose curiosity and knowledge, not knowing what it would bring but willing to take the chance. This is what makes us human, is it not? If our ancestors hadn’t started using tools or building fires, would we be here as we are now? If they hadn’t experimented with what they were told to not touch what would our world look like now?
Either you can have life or you can know a great many things. I feel like I choose this every day. Stay innocent and just live, naive of what is around me, or know a great many things, and in awareness of my fragility and humanity, be cast from the innocence of the simple goodness of life into the heartbreak and the sadness of the real world.
In an evolutionary sense, this story carries true. At a certain point humanity casted off its animalistic side and became aware of its own nakedness. We became self aware. We no longer lived and died meaningless deaths, essentially living forever as a species. We became individuals aware of our nature and physicality. Genesis is the story of the ascent of man, not the fall.