Garden of Eden

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Page 6

Let us recapitulate the problems of origins to which the story of the Garden of Eden gives answers. The main feature to be noted is that these answers are not merely theological, simply referring us to G-d as the originator of all things; they present the fundamentals of the creation of the human world very much like the physical world, in a logical order and in a coherent form that can be examined independently and in a way that allows the solutions to be translated from mythological to conceptual language without changing the meaning. The problems raised and settled are:

  1. The beginning of mankind in the form of an individual who is, at the same time, the embodiment of a universal, the human species as a whole.
  2. The necessary immortality of a universal, as a particular.
  3. The necessary connection between the phenomena of death and the existence of an individual in the ordinary sense.
  4. The close relation between the phenomena of death and sex.
  5. The origin of shame.
  6. The necessary paradox inherent in the nature of G-d as Infinite Being.
  7. The creation of human freedom.
  8. The genesis of knowledge.
  9. The antagonism between knowledge and life.
  10. The origin of work and civilisation.
  11. The aim of contentment and the happiness of love.

It is the logical coherence of the processes that brought into being the constituents of the human world that lend to the story of the Garden of Eden the character of a 'theory'. The criterion for this is that it can explain many phenomena by a single idea. As already said, the story is not merely theological in the ordinary sense. Just as, in the narrative of the Creation of the universe, the natural sequence of the conditions of the emerging entities provides an argument of its own, just as it is a law of natural reason that the origin of more primitive phenomena must precede that of more complex, higher ones - a law that makes the reason for the cosmic order an attribute of the Creator - so, the logical sequence of the story of the Garden of Eden shows us the affinity of this 'myth' to a 'theory', keeping in mind, of course, the premise of the reference to G-d as the ultimate, necessary cause that He is in the origin of the cosmos. A relationship of this sort, in which the majority of the elements of a myth can be co-ordinated to the details of a theory, is extremely rare, if not unique, in mythological literature.

The coherence of the stages of the story corresponding to the order of a development is easily recognisable. That the first man is, at the outset, not an individual is clearly indicated, since at this point there is no procreation to continue the existence of his kind. His is, therefore, a limit-case of the human form; his potential immortality is the logical alternative to and the opposite of the mortality that he incurs at the point when he acquires individuality in the usual sense and transforms himself into the first real member of the human species. The inseparability of death and individuality is biologically necessary and evident. Individuality is acquired in several stages, amongst which we can distinguish an intermediary phase of sexual differentiation, the division of Adam into two beings. The decisive stages, the acquisition of knowledge and the formation of self-consciousness, exemplified by the appearance of shame, are conditioned by opportunity and the exercise of free will. All these phenomena are but different aspects of the logically coherent, complex process, the changing of Adam from mankind to man.

This again raises the question of human freedom and, in view of G-d's omnipotence and omniscience, the ultimate difficulty arising from the paradoxical nature of G-d as Infinite. The answer implied in the story, namely that G-d prefers the freedom of His creature to an automatic absence of evil, allows for the conclusion that, on the contrary, G-d being beyond dualism, sanctions the future course of the world that unfolds as the history of mankind, originating with knowledge and beginning with the need to work and the ensuing rise of civilisation. All of this indicates one continuous, logical sequence in which the whole story of the Garden of Eden - not only the account of the physical origin of man and woman in the first twenty-two verses - appears as an anthropogeny, the genesis of the human world with individuality, death, freedom and knowledge as a true counterpart to the genesis of the universe.