Genesis 3: What is the man doing? or Adam discovers the scientific method.

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)

After a series of close-ups involving the serpent and the woman, the camera pans back and reveals that her husband has been present all along. So, what was he doing? Why did he not intervene? Why did he not answer the serpent or better send it scurrying for speaking inappropriately to his wife, the queen of Eden?

Related Posts: Have Sex and Eat: The First Two CommandmentsHow to Teach Genesis One

Why does the woman add to the commandment that YHWH gave to the man? Why does she add to the law of the garden? Did she put a hedge around the law? Or did the man add “and do not touch it” when he shared the rules of the garden with his wife? Why does she not specify which tree they are not to eat from? There is no mention of the tree of life.

Since, he was present with her, then it suggests that the man was observing the conversation and the results. He does not reach out and stop her before she eats of the fruit. He does not smack it out of her hand and jump down the Serpent’s throat. No, he waits and observes.

She eats. She does not die.

The experiment concludes. He interprets the data. YHWH said she would die. The Serpent said she would not die. Both said it was good for gaining knowledge of good and evil, for gaining wisdom. She did not die. Therefore, the Serpent is telling the truth.

He eats and his eyes are opened.

The opening of the eyes is literary irony, of course. For he no longer sees himself or his wife as God intended but through the eyes of the serpent. His eyes are opened but he sees less and begins to cover up what he does see. He even thinks that he can hide from his Creator. Sight is an important theme in Genesis.

Before he even eats of the fruit, the man is already acting like a king of this world, like Pharaoh, like the sons of the gods in Genesis 6. He has used his wife as the first “taster”. Rulers employ “Tasters” to make sure their food is not poisoned. Recall, Joseph encounters a cupbearer and a baker in prison.

While it is common to speak of this event as “the fall”, the implication is that the state of man in the garden was one of perfection. This may be an unfortunate imposition on the text that is more of a hindrance than a help to our understanding of the text.

In the Christian tradition, Irenaeus offers an alternative approach to the text which does not presume perfection. Being perfect and being very good are not the same thing. In Jewish tradition, the idea of the yetzer hara or the “evil inclination” is presumed to be something every human is born with and this includes the first man and woman. I think the narrative of Genesis 2-3 fits better with such ideas than a fall from perfection which has something of a Platonic feel to it.

Food and a person’s relationship to food is a significant theme in Genesis. Attend to this theme as you read, it is often revealing of character. Likewise, the theme of being a king like the nations in contrast to ruling like the Creator God is a theme from Genesis through to Revelation. Jesus, the New Adam, comes proclaiming the Kingdom of God and feeds people in the wilderness. He needs no food but the food the YHWH provides.

For further reading on the biblical narrative and literary techniques, I recommend the following: The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative by Meir Sternberg (although in the case of David, I think Sternberg goes beyond the constraints of the narrative in his intepretation — but then again, some might suggest I have done so in this post :), or Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin.

For commentaries on Genesis, I recommend John Walton, Walter Brueggeman, and Bruce Waltke.

For excellent books on Genesis 2-3, see John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve and Peter Enns’s The Evolution of Adam.


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