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The Key that Fits the Lock, Part Three Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Wednesday, 15 August 2012

On the Fall of Man, recounted in but a few verses in the third chapter of Genesis, one might well fill many shelves full of books, so rich is the mythic presentation of what Newman called the aboriginal calamity, a disastrous turning away from God wherein we are all involved.  

All I hope to do here is to point out one feature wherein the nature of sin is seen as it were in the evil kernel, and therefore also the contradictions inherent in the unredeemed human condition.

The sacred author is careful to tell us that Adam and Eve were naked, and were not ashamed. Here we would do well to recall the Greek myths of the so-called Golden Age, when Cronus (Saturn) ruled, before his son Zeus seized his empire.

During that time, human beings lived in peace, but also in rustic barbarity – a not-quite-human innocence, or rather innocuousness, a life of gathering acorns and drinking from the streams. They were not holy, godlike, or naked.

But Adam and Eve are, in the beginning, all these things. They have been made in the image and likeness of God; Adam has exercised the divine power of the intellect in naming the beasts; and he has burst into praise upon seeing the goodness and the rightness of his wife Eve, brought to him by God.  

Eve is not a Pandora visited upon mankind by a malevolent Zeus. Adam and Eve are naked, implying that they belong to one another frankly and freely, with nothing to hide from one another or from God, because as Adam says, “a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.”  

God is the first in Scripture to command:  He spoke, and they were made, as the Psalmist says. But Adam is the first to prophesy, and that too is a godlike act.

So the nakedness is not a symbol of foolishness. A remarkable pun in the original Hebrew text is of tremendous consequence. Adam and Eve were naked, ’erom, but the serpent was the subtlest beast of all the field, ’erom, pronounced with a glottal opening before the initial vowel.  

Milton seems to have caught the pun and made it one of the central dramatic motifs in Paradise Lost. So Satan, on the fateful morning of the temptation, appears in the body of that subtlest beast, “in whose mazy folds / To hide me, and the dark intent I bring.”  

Satan is always hiding, from God, the loyal angels, his fellow demons, Adam and Eve, and himself; even his initial plan of rebellion against the Son is couched in terms of secrecy and duplicity, as he whispers to his bed-mate Beelzebub:  “More in this place / To utter is not safe.”

And Adam and Eve, after they have eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree, and made love in the fury of first licentiousness, find themselves not clad “in naked majesty,” as before, but cloaked in confusion and shame:

Up they rose
As from unrest, and each the other viewing,
Soon found their eyes how opened, and their minds
How darkened; innocence, that as a veil
Had shadowed them from knowing ill, was gone,
Just confidence, and native righteousness,
And honor from about them, naked left
To guilty shame; he covered, but his robe
Uncovered more.

Those last words ending in the broken line, with their astonishing reversal of images, are among the saddest in all of literature.

Sad because true, as the sacred author means to show us. We are compelled by the pun to set the cunning against the nakedness. The telltale of sin is the need to hide, or, to put it another way, to present a false front, to cloak nothingness in a pretended glory. 

Adam and Eve in their nakedness are for one another and are free to speak with God as friend with friend. It is not subhuman but perfectly human and therefore divine. But the cunning, the subtle cloaking of the serpent is meant to spoil that nakedness. 

His lie about the forbidden fruit is a lie about God and about the love that God has showered upon the human couple – the lords of Paradise. “God doth know,” he says, “that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” 

He is calling God a liar and a concealer:  as if Adam and Eve do not already enjoy the knowledge of good as such. That includes the goodness of marriage itself. For, after all, if Adam and Eve are to fulfill the command, “Be fruitful, and multiply,” and if they are to cleave to one another, bone of bone and flesh of flesh, then they must know one another in the powerful sense of the Hebrew verb, so often and so stupidly obscured by bad modern translations.

After the sin, Adam and Eve require the pathetic fig leaves to hide their nakedness, and when God approaches them in the garden, they are still in hiding. In other words, they are no longer ’erom, naked, but ’erom, cunning, subtle – and foolish.

For who can hide from God? God probes the inmost heart, and sheds light upon those dark corners of the heart where we huddle, trying to hide our eyes from Him and from our own selves. 

Adam and Eve hide “from the face of the Lord,” another verse now stupidly translated so as to remove the Hebrew word for face:  because to face someone is to look upon him openly. So the Psalmist cries out:  “When shall I come and appear before the face of God?” And Saint Paul looks forward to that time when we will know, even as we are known, because we will see God “face to face.” 

Then will the original lie be undone forever.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 

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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Grump, August 15, 2012
Tony, well done but if you don't mind a bit of levity:

Q. Where is the first mention of insurance in the Bible?
A. When Adam and Eve needed more coverage.

If Adam and Eve were Chinese, they'd still be in paradise because they would have eaten the snake instead of the apple.
written by Stanley Anderson, August 15, 2012
(This may be too long for a comment here. If so, no offence taken if you decide to reject it for inclusion in the comments section of course)

Humor and the Fall

I have a theory where I speculate that humor is a result of the Fall. When I describe it to people, they very often stand aghast at the idea of attributing something they consider so “good” to be associated with what seems like its very opposite. And so I always have to explain that I am not at all saying that humor is bad (though of course there are many bad corruptions and misuses of humor as can happen with virtually any good thing).

I then have to go on to tell them that it is good in much the same way that one could say that the Resurrection of Christ was a “result” of the Fall – ie, if the Fall had never happened (though, as C.S. Lewis likes to point out in the Narnian stories, we can never know “what would have happened”), Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection would not have been necessary. And of course no Christian would ever say that the Resurrection was not a good thing just because it was “made necessary” by the Fall.

A perhaps better example is the idea that Adam and Eve donned clothing to cover the shame of their nakedness after eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One might say that Jesus himself, being unfallen, should not have needed clothing, and yet he wore clothes anyway. Of course it could be argued that whether he needed them or not, he wore them more for our benefit, being fallen ourselves, than any need of his.

But even apart from that, it is interesting that though the necessity for clothing seems to be a result of the Fall, Scripture itself is replete with references to clothes as “holy” things – eg, being clothed with righteousness, heavenly apparel, white robes, and such like. Clothes in Scripture have apparently become (if they were not always so – hard to say, certainly) forevermore associated with something good, even though, for us at least, they were a result of the Fall.

(And in connection with Christ himself wearing clothes, I have also wondered if his being stripped of his garments at the Cross had some sort of symbolic connection with his taking on our sins so that those sins would no longer be hidden, but conquered on the Cross for all the world to see in their naked fullness and not having the shame of them covered up, as Adam and Eve did with their shame.)

The reason I described clothing above as a “perhaps better example” to illustrate my “humor and the Fall” theory is that I have often wondered if we might not see humor as a kind of “spiritual clothing” that we “put on” to cover up the shame of our fallen nature in this fallen world – a state that would otherwise be too bitter for us to bear or contemplate – in the same way that Adam and Eve apparently couldn’t bear or contemplate the shame of their nakedness and attempted to cover it with physical clothes.

And this leads me to another of my speculations: Knowledgeable Christians are fond of insisting that Scripture does not explicitly identify the forbidden fruit as the popular fabled apple. But I say it was actually a banana, and that Eve, when she had finished eating from it, threw the peeling down onto the Garden grounds, whereupon Adam unwittingly slipped on it, thereby introducing humor and the Fall of Man into the world simultaneously.

(Running for cover.)

written by Layman Tom, August 15, 2012
...Sooo, Adam and Eve would have eaten the insurance salesman?

Sorry Tony. It WAS a good piece, but I couldn't resist.
written by Aeneas, August 15, 2012
Yet another example of why Esolen is, as they say, 'da man! I do mean it, in just one short essay you have shed more light on the Adam and Eve story than I what I got from my RCIA experience. That says two things 1)Your very insightful/very good at what you do AND 2)the RCIA classes I took stunk! :)

"If Adam and Eve were Chinese, they'd still be in paradise because they would have eaten the snake instead of the apple."
Heheh! Good one
written by Grump, August 15, 2012
Another one from Bishop Sheen: Adam, pointing to Eve and commenting to his kids: "Your mother ate us out of house and home."

written by patricia, August 15, 2012
To go before the face of God to me implies me being judged, and is quite fearful. But "seeing God face to face" sounds more like God as He really is, with both His judgement and His mercy, and us humbly before Him but also with Him. Even Adam and Eve were promised His mercy, so I think the Hebrew might translate somehow into seeing Him face to face, at least in our American English way of thinking. I will try to better understand these verses that way, translating them for myself with this way of looking at them.

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