The Garden of Eden-beyond what you thought the story said

I just got my May/June issue of Biblical Archeology Review. This is a magazine that, whatever else you might say about it, is not stodgy at all. If they can find what might have been ancient Near Eastern porn, they will publish it. I think a lot of people read BAR just for the shocked letters to the editor.

In this issue Mary Joan Winn Leith reviews Ziony Zevit’s book, What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden. Zevit seems to want to read the Genesis story without all the layers of interpretation that generations of rabbis and Christian scholars have laid upon it. Also he seems to want to interpret the Garden of Eden story in a way that will allow feminists to give it a second look.

Leith titles her review, “Restoring Nudity”. That is a typical headline for BAR and one reason the magazine is so popular. So, of course, she would report Zevit’s interpretation of Genesis 2:21 that God fashioned Eve from Adam’s penis bone. Many animals have one. Humans do not. Genesis 2:21 would function partly as an explanation for this. So much for Adam’s rib!

Also interesting is Zevit’s interpretation of the term English Bibles once translated as “help meet” or “help mate”. Zevit suggests that it means “a powerful counterpart”. Woman is a powerful counterpart to man. It is an interesting suggestion that should get taken seriously.

Catholics and Protestants have gotten all caught up in the idea that what happened in the Garden of Eden was the Fall–the fall of humans from innocence and immortality. As John Milton put it, it was the loss of paradise. Jews have tended not to see it that way. The Eastern Orthodox also have had a different take. From the review, I take it that Zevit thinks the Garden of Eden story is about “how all humanity. . .obtained the knowledge to discriminate between the more and less preferable when making choices.”

I have not read the book, just the review. But I do think it would be good if more people could put aside some of the preconceptions that feed into simplistic and anti-scientific interpretations of Genesis. The Garden of Eden and other Bible stories may not be saying exactly what we have always thought they said.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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