In this blog post, we look at the Fall narrative, especially with regards to other mythologies of the Ancient Near East.
The usual suspects of Adam, Eve, and the serpent are in attendance, but an unexpected visitor makes an appearance…
The Fall (2: 25 – 3: 24)
Although the Fall narrative is not part of the second creation account, it continues the story and also has great relevance to the theory of evolution. Mark Isaak states that “Creationists link death and decay with the second law of thermodynamics, with the consequence that no decay before the Fall means the second law of thermodynamics was not in effect before the Fall. However, the second law of thermodynamics is intimately connected with the flow of time. Since the Bible says that time was established before the Fall, thermodynamics and therefore decay must have existed then, too.”
The Fall Narrative
At the start of the narrative, Adam and Eve live in what can be called a “golden age,” which “was a widespread motif in the ancient world and symbolically represents the ideal for human beings,” according to anthropologist and historian of religion Mircae Eliade. In the Enki and Ninhursag myth, there exists a paradise in the city Dilmun, which is an actual city, and in the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (translation here), there was a prior time in which there was one people, one language, no snake, no wild dog, no fear, and no terror. “On that day when there is no snake, when there is no scorpion, when there is no hyena, when there is no lion, when there is neither dog nor wolf, when there is thus neither fear nor trembling, man has no rival!” The different animals were known to the people in that area and serve to summarize what mankind has to fear from nature.
The Mesopotamian tree of life flanked by two images of a Neo-Assyrian king. Above the tree is the god Assur in his customary winged sun disk.
The Tree of Knowledge stands central in the narrative of the Fall. In Mesopotamian tradition, a tree of life is also present, e.g. as the tree of life which also serves to support the constellations. The Akkadian tale of Adapa (translation here) has parallels with the Fall account. Adapa, a priest and sage, angered the god of heaven, Anu, by breaking the South Wind’s Wing by simply saying “South Wind, though you send your brothers against me, However many there are, I shall break your wing!” He was then summoned before Anu to give account. The gods sought to make Adapa a god, because he knew their secrets. The god of wisdom, Ea, advises Adapa not to eat or drink what is offered and Adapa is obedient to Ea’s instructions, resulting in him missing out on the food which gives eternal life. In the Gilgamesh epic, Gilgamesh is told of a plant that gives eternal life by the flood hero Utnapishtim. The name of the plant is “man becomes young in old age” and while Gilgamesh takes a bath after finding the plant, a snake steals the plant from him. In Persian mythology one finds a serpent named Dahâka, which is an incarnation of an evil spirit. Those of you who have played Prince of Persia: Warrior Within will remember this guy:
The music in the background is an instrumental version of Godsmack’s “I Stand Alone,” featured on the Scorpion King OST.
In contrast to the Dahâka, the serpent in Genesis is a mere creature, only more crafty, but without any suggestion that the serpent is to be equated with Satan, even though it has been a popular connection to make. In the myths of Adapa and Gilgamesh, the heroes strove after immortality, whereas in the Genesis account, it was not immortality that Adam and Eve were after, but rather knowledge of good and evil.
Cylinder seal depicting Gilgamesh and Enkidu
In the epic of Gilgamesh, his companion was Enkidu, a friend of all creatures and child of nature. Enkidu was basically the “[h]alf-man/half-beast bestie of Gilgamesh.” After yielding to a courtesan, named Shamhat, Enkidu loses the oneness he had with the natural world, but is said to have gained wisdom, as the courtesan tells him “You are wise, Enkidu, you are like a god.” There seems to be a sexual connotation to the knowledge of good and evil. Robert Davidson explains that the biblical narrative is not meant “as a polemic against sex, but as a warning against the misuse, the deification of sex in the worship orgies of Canaanite fertility cults.” In the tale of Adapa, of Enkidu, and of Adam and Eve, knowledge is seen as something that makes one equal to a god. For Davidson , the phrase “good and evil” has the meaning of “everything” and he states the problem as follows: “Man is being warned that he is subject to certain limitations. He is not omniscient; he is not all-powerful in himself. He can choose to accept this lot as a creature under the authority of God or he can attempt to be ‘Mr Know All’ and go it alone.”
Collins, R 2003. Evolution and original sin. In: Miller, K B (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 469-501.
Davidson, R. 1973. Genesis 1-11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Keel, O. 1978. The symbolism of the biblical world: Ancient near eastern iconography and the book of Psalms. London: SPCK.
Mathews, K A. 1996. The new American commentary: Genesis 1-11:26. Volume 1A. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.
Skinner, J. 1976. The international critical commentary: A critical and exegetical commentary on Genesis. Second edition. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.
Wenham, G J. 1987. Word Biblical commentary. Volume 1: Genesis 1-15. Waco: Word Books.