Eve Overcome By Remorse (1885) Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930), oil on canvas
Blame it on Eve. The first sinner. She’s the one who ate the forbidden fruit first and got Adam and her kicked out of the Garden of Eden. She’s the reason that women suffer in childbirth and are subjected to male domination. Had she not implicated Adam in her sin, man could have stayed in paradise and wouldn’t have had to work so hard to coax enough food from the ground. It makes you wonder whether God knew what he was talking about when he said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Maybe he would have been better off without her.
The story of paradise lost – to steal a phrase from Milton – begins when God makes a perfect garden where his newly created humans can live in peace and harmony with nature and with God. Adam and Eve are vegetarians; the animals are too (Gen. 1:29-30). There is only one rule: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:16b). A talking snake sidles up to Eve and tells her that if she eats from the tree of knowledge she will be like God: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). After a brief hesitation she takes, eats, and gives the fruit to Adam. (There’s no mention of an apple; we don’t know what kind of fruit it was.) For their disobedience they are banished from the garden. God curses the snake (who must slither on his belly and eat dust), the woman (who will suffer in childbirth), and the ground (which will yield its fruit to man only with hard labor).
God’s punishments are examples of “etiology” – which means a study of causes. I call them Mommy, why? stories. They’re found throughout the book of Genesis and other ancient literature. Imagine a Hebrew toddler asking, Mommy, why are there rainbows? The story of Noah and Flood answers the question. Genesis 3 answers similar questions of causation: Mommy, why are snakes so scary and why do the slide on their bellies? Mommy, why does it hurt mommies when babies are born? Mommy, why does daddy have to work so hard to get enough food for us to eat? And perhaps the biggest Mommy, why? question of all: Mommy, why is there sin and evil in the world? Skeptical scholars have used etiology to argue that the Bible is just another ancient collection of myths. But etiology did more than satisfy childish curiosity in ancient Israel; it provided historical explanations for the world as the Hebrews experienced it.
St. Paul points out that Eve was deceived (2 Cor. 11:3). Adam wasn’t. He made a decision to eat without being beguiled. It’s good fodder for misogynists who claim that female character is more defective. Women are more gullible than men. I don’t think that’s what Paul meant. If anything Adam’s character was worse, because unlike Eve he decided to sin without being tempted. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul places the blame for infecting all of humanity with original sin (a concept not found in the Old Testament) on Adam alone: “Sin came into the world through one man . . . .”
A rabbi friend pointed out something I never noticed before in Genesis 3. God didn’t banish Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, only Adam: “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:23-24). Apparently Eve chose to go willingly with her husband. She gave up paradise for him. Why? Because she was created to be his helper and partner. Because they were one flesh. Because – as God said – it was not good for man to be alone. Because men never ask for directions and Adam would be perpetually lost without her. Because being alone is worse than suffering together.
Eve gave up eternal life in paradise to face a hostile world and eventual death with her husband – her husband who named her Eve, signifying that she would become the mother of all living. (The name “Eve” in Hebrew sounds like the word for “living.”) She is the mother of all, including the Savior who would die for the sins of the world, foreshadowed in the prophecy that the “seed of the woman” will bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
As it turns out the first sinner, Eve, was also the first saint.