Garden of Eden

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At this stage, the Hebrew myth allows us to pick up a level of meaning that is very important for the correct appreciation of the story: the difference between translating into conceptual language that which is implicit in the mythological narrative, the analysis of that which the story actually contains and all sorts of philosophical commentaries on it, expositions of ideas and lines that the story only suggests but does not itself present. Let me, by way of example, add such a commentary, an idea that may be associated with, but is not implicit in the story.

By the very act of driving the first man out of the Garden of Eden and placing the Tree of Life under inviolable guard, G-d has left and has given to the development of knowledge and of man their ultimate motivation: given the existence of man, to unravel 'the secret of life'. The attainment of this final goal would initiate the highest eschatological phase in the history of man, one in which he would have succeeded in combining the two supreme goods, the extension of his will over the mystery of life and the preservation of a consciousness of individual existence. Barring the access to such a synthesis of individuality and immortality at the beginning of history is highly suggestive of the ultimate goal, still to be attained: reopening the way to the Tree of Life. Now, this idea of an eventual readmission, although in the logical neighbourhood of the account of man's exclusion from the Tree of Life, while possibly inspired by that account, may be seen as a speculative commentary on the narrative; it may be a reflection suggested by the story of the Garden of Eden, but it is definitely neither expressed nor contained in the story. And that is so for the simple reason that the story gives, as indeed do the other narratives in the Book of Genesis and as the traditional name also suggests, namely that it is an account of 'the beginnings' of phenomena that have already come into existence and are now real. It is not concerned with what will be or can be in times to come, what may be in the latter days. For the moment, let me return to my survey of the actual themes and look at another topic arising from the account of the expulsion of man from what are frequently termed the paradisiac conditions of his early existence:

10. The origin of work and civilisation. The change from a comparatively effortless way of life in the Garden of Eden to the hardships of human existence lying ahead is a clear mythological expression of a feature that is biologically inseparable from the very first phase of every human being; life must be granted fully, without any of the exertions that need subsequently to be laboriously learnt. To the paradise of childhood or of pre-natal existence, the myth adds what one might call a philo-genetic parallel, the stage of a carefree existence in the life of the species, the initial phase of which is here represented by its first member. As the story proceeds from the cosmological or, if one prefers the term, from the mythological stage of man's origin to the earthly scene of the beginning of man's history, the language of the cosmic factor of the image - cosmic in the sense of approximating to the meaning of the term 'transcendent' - gradually gives way to the language of empirical mythological fact as we know it. The origin of work on the soil and the details of a rising civilisation are no longer told implicitly, but explicitly.

I shall add one more theme contained in the story of the Garden of Eden to this survey. It can be seen as standing between the group of themes stated literally in the narrative and those that can only be brought out by analysis. Within the process of transition from a state of comprehensive contentment to the ordinary state with which we are familiar, another aspect can be seen: the sequence of unfulfilled desire. The expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden provides the general theme and presents the main aspects of the transition. But, apart form the change from an unrestricted existence to a life of toil and sustenance, there is one specific aspect to be noted in the transition. It is in the sphere of procreation and relates a psychological situation, the mutual attraction of man and woman. We can refer to it as:

11.The relation of supreme bliss and happiness to the phenomenon of love. It follows clearly from the account of the expulsion that what is ordinarily valued as the most heavenly joy, the most blissful experience of which a human being is capable, the experience of love, with its transfiguration of the individual, is regarded as a condition that is clearly located outside not inside the Garden of Eden. Love, with all its beatific accompaniments, belongs to the domain 'outside of paradise', not to the place of undisturbed happiness and bliss. It is not reminiscent of the paradisic state, since the entity within the Garden that points to the world outside, the Tree of Knowledge is, as it were, an enclave in paradise, an extra-territorial entity, the use of which is forbidden even though, at the same time, it bestows upon man a kind of beatitude opposed to the highest form of earthly happiness and satisfaction. We seem to have another expression here of that strangely ambiguous attitude of the Hebrew myth to the facts of sex and love. In the story of the Garden of Eden, the relation of the sexes, far from being regarded as a 'sin', even less as a 'hereditary sin', to be suppressed in the Marcionite way or tolerated in the Pauline way, is given the dubious character, suffering and happiness, chaos and necessity. The imperfections of the relation are stressed, not its delights. The real summum bonum, supreme bliss, does not figure in ordinary human existence.