The Tree Of Knowledge
A central story in the Jewish tradition is the story of the fall from the utopian environment in the Garden of Eden. What, if anything, did Adam and Eve do wrong?
Perhaps the tree and the serpent can both be interpreted as alluding to the male genitals and eating from the Tree of Knowledge can be interpreted as engaging in sex. This would be logical since the punishment Eve received was the burden of bearing children. Adams punishment was to toil in the fields outside the Garden perhaps in order to create enough food for his growing family. Is sex and reproduction therefore inherently evil? If so, then why do other creatures reproduce and why do humans posses a strong desire to do so?
Perhaps sex and reproduction are part of a useful interpretation but they seem incomplete by themselves.
It’s interesting to speculate about what the authors of the Bible were experiencing during the time that the story of Eden was conceived and written. Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob, came from Ur — a city that was part of the ancient Sumer culture. Sumer is the culture from which we have found the oldest examples of written language. With the advent of wood styluses being used to press a set of distinct patterns into clay tablets (and eventually ink placed on wood based paper), humans learned to record their thoughts for perhaps the first time in human history. Knowledge of symbolic encodings may also have lead to the earliest attempts at symbolically representing and manipulating mathematical concepts.
These innovations enabled a new style of civilization due to the ability to collect and transmit precise accumulated knowledge in a multigenerational way. It also enabled more accurate record keeping which made it easier to perceive patterns in things like the stars and the changing of the seasons.
Could the Tree of Knowledge be a reference to the innovation of writing that occurred in ancient Sumer? Does writing give us the knowledge of good and evil similar to the “gods”? Is it wrong to know the difference between good and evil and should attempts to gain that knowledge be punished?
Again, it seems that writing and the advances in knowledge that it resulted in my play some role in a useful interpretation but it too seems incomplete.
What is it to be like a “god?” Why would they have knowledge of good and evil that a simpler creature would not posses? The story of Adam and Eve is a story about Elohim designing and creating an environment for other aware beings to live in. Since the beings were dependent on this environment and were deliberately created and placed there by Elohim, Elohim seems to be responsible for what those creatures experienced — including their suffering.
Perhaps, knowledge of another creature depending on one’s own designs for their well-being is the knowledge the gods possessed. If the gods should fail to build a just arrangement that leads to flourishing, freedom, peace and longevity then who is to blame if the creatures placed there had no choice in how they were created or into which environment they were placed? It seems apparent that the gods would be culpable to a substantial if not absolute degree.
At some point in human development humans left the natural state where, similar to other creatures, they simply grazed on what the land produced, lived nude, and had little to no protection from the weather, predators, famine, disease or one another.
Once they began creating artificial environments based on their own designs their children were born into a world that the human designers were responsible for, which was much different than the environment that Elohim had placed them in. The advents of writing, agriculture, math, division of labor, and high population cities intensified the degree to which humans were subjected to human designs.
If we accept this interpretation, then what is the meaning of the snake? In many tellings of the story the snake is presented as being approximately, if not exactly, equivalent to Satan or the Devil. Interestingly, Rabbi Jesus teaches his follows to be wise like a snake and Moses held up a snake when leading the Jews out of Egypt. What do these references to the snake have in common? Perhaps the answer is that the snake represents ongoing change as represented by snakes frequently shedding their skin in a way that resembles transformation and rebirth.
Perhaps we should see the story of Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge as a story about inevitable change, both in the form of sexual maturity for Eve and intellectual maturity for humanity. Due to sexual maturity, humans give birth which can lead to large populations. Over time humanity developed an awareness of the suffering they experienced when directly exposed to nature and when driven by instinct. Humanity then applied its intellect towards designing environments that went outside of Elohim’s Garden of Eden, which was a simple environment for animal-like humans in which humans bore little to no culpability for their own behaviors or wellbeing.
Is it wrong to change? Can all change be avoided? Is the snake inherently evil? Perhaps the snake is despised because it represents inescapable change and transformation. Girls and boys become sexually active men and women. Intelligent creatures develop beyond the limitations of their environments and seek new ways to control their experiences and suffering. The snake is despised because maturing is not only inevitable it is potentially painful and requires one to take more responsibility for how one’s actions affect other creatures — especially those that depend upon one’s own designs.
To sin is perhaps to fail to act in a just way in a situation where one bears culpability. In Elohim’s Eden perhaps no one could sin but Elohim. As humanity matured they became able to consider different actions in a more independent way. They could imagine an action or design and then subject others to it. With this came the potential for human sin. They had become like the gods.