The Garden of Eden

The Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is a picture of paradise. Adam and Eve live together in a garden that produces all they need. The earth gladly provides fruit and vegetables. They live in peace with one another and with the animals; they are at peace within themselves having no need for shame; and they are at peace with God. 

The picture painted is of a large park owned by an estate owner who, after a busy day, enjoys a walk in the cool of the evening and a conversation with his gardener about the fruits of the garden. All is in harmony : heaven on earth together.

Then it all goes wrong. Adam and Eve were allowed to eat any of the fruits of the Garden but not from the Tree of Knowledge. The slithering serpent deceives them and when they eat the forbidden fruit their eyes are opened.

The Hebrew word 'to know' means 'to experience'. It is one thing to know about atrocities - it is another to have experienced them hence they discover too late that it is a bitter fruit they have bitten.

They experience shame. No longer at one with their earthliness they hide their nakedness with leaves; no longer at peace with God they hide themselves in the garden.

To guard the Tree of Life and the entrance to the Garden of Eden God places the cherubim -

'...at the east of the garden of Eden

he placed the cherubim,

and a flaming sword

which turned every way,

to guard the way to the tree of life.'

The Hebrew word  'adam  means 'man' or 'mankind' - it was never a personal name. The author of the story used it as a play on the Hebrew word for 'earth' - dama. So Adam means 'man of the earth'.

'..then the Lord God formed man

of dust from the ground,

and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;

and man became a living being.'

Genesis 2 : 7

The point made is that Adam is a creature of the earth and of heaven - made of dust and divine breath. In the Garden he is at peace with both.

Then the dreadful consequences follow. Adam and Eve must leave the garden knowing that they are now mortal -

 

'you are dust,
and to dust you shall return'

Genesis 3 : 19

They will cling to one another but cause one another pain; they will toil to make the earth produce and its fruits will be thorns and thistles; they are no longer at one with the earth and no longer at peace with God. They are made of heaven and earth but in harmony with neither. They will be lost and restless.

But God shows his creatures care and compassion -

 

'And the Lord God made for Adam

and for his wife garments of skins,

and clothed them. '

Genesis 3 : 21

The Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are far older than the story of Adam and Eve but both are about the origins of the Israelites and their journey into history. Both are about origins and failure and are part of the background to the story of Jesus of Nazareth.