This section is really the lynchpin of our whole text; setting aside our large question about the meaning (or lack thereof) of a “Fall” in the Old Testament, these two verses are the axis around which all else in the narrative revolves. Everything before has been stage-setting, everything after represents the fallout. And yet, there’s not a lot that happens. “Two people eat some fruit” is not exactly a plot description on which to hang or sell a theological drama. (Perhaps in Norway?) Or, as Boromir says, “Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!“
My expansive campfire translation. “Now, to be honest, the woman had noticed that that tree seemed edible, and was really pretty to boot. She picked some fruit, ate it, and handed some to her husband who was with her, who followed suit. 7 Then, they Knew. “Um, hello, where are my pants? What are pants, anyway? We can’t…” “No we really mustn’t…” “I can’t walk around like this in public…” So they sewed themselves some really uncomfortable but completely local, organic, biodegradable underwear.”
Everett Fox – “The woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to contemplate. She took from its fruit and ate and gave also to her husband beside her, and he ate. 7 The eyes of the two of them were opened and they knew then that they were nude. They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Robert Alter – “And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was lust to the eyes and the tree was lovely to look at, and she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man, and he ate. 7 And the eyes of the two were opened, and they knew they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.”
Below, some notes on verse 6. (Notes tomorrow on verse 7)
- Eve realizes (“saw”) three phrases. One uses identical vocabular to 2:9, ” good for eating,” the second phrase uses a synonym, ta’awah instead of neHmad, “delightful to the eyes,”, the third is an addition though it uses the missing word from phrase two, “desirable (neHmad) to make wise.” In other words, in 2:9 we have A, B. In 3:6 we have B, A’, Ca.
- 2:9 and 3:6 use (mostly) the same terminology of tree(s) being pleasant to the eyes and good for food. Thus at least 2/3 of the description here is not so much a serpent-motivated observation or justification, but simply taking active awareness of the qualities God had bestowed on the garden in general, which extended to this tree. In Heb. Hmd has the sense of strong desire, translated as “covet” in legal passages (Ex 20:17, 34:24, Deu 5:21). The trees were intended to be Hmd-able, objects of appreciation and desire. Ta’awah also may extend beyond simple want to longing, yearning, giving Alter’s translation of “it was lust to the eyes.” Most agree that ta’awah and neHmad are to be synonyms, and it is far from clear that God intended the trees to incite some kind of flora-”lust” (as Alter would have it.) Should the semantics of ta’awah elsewhere alter our understanding of neHmad here, or should the previous positive use of neHmad by God be the dominant semantic weight in the parallelism?
- Hmd has some fun connections with Arabic, where the semantics lean more towards something honorable or praiseworthy. We find it in the extremely common phrase al-Hamdu lillah (noun form, “praise belongs to God!”), and the names Muhammed, Ahmad, and Mahmoud, various forms meaning praiseworthy or honorable.
- Returning to the woman, she also observes that the tree can “enlighten” (I note this seems to have disappeared from my translation.) The Syriac and Vulgate, along with a minority of commenters analyze the grammar differently here, making the tree not a source of wisdom, but a tree “pleasant to contemplate.” I don’t see much to recommend that view.
- “her husband with her” Contrary to the typical LDS perception of this scene, the force of ”with her” (‘immah) strongly suggests that the man was present with the woman when she partook of the fruit. Alter simply leaves this out of his translation, Fox indicates this by changing the preposition to “beside her”, and I indicate it with the verb “handed some to her husband with her.” However, Genesis 3:3 suggests that the conversation with the serpent does not take place near this tree of knowing. Are we to read in the passage of some time between the end of the conversation and the realization (“when she saw”) of the tree’s desirability ? It’s possible to understand the Hebrew that way. Once she “sees,” however, the acts of taking, eating, and giving follow in relatively quick succession. Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary) sees the man as entirely complicit in this, based on the preposition “with her” and the fact that the serpent uses plural pronouns.
The woman is not a temptress. She does not say a word but simply hands her husband the fruit, which he accepts and eats. The absence of any hint of resistance or even hesitation on his part is strange. It should be noted, however, that in speaking to the woman, the serpent consistently used the plural form. This suggests that the man was all the time within ear’s reach of the conversation and was equally seduced by its persuasiveness. In fact, the Hebrew text here literally means, “She also gave to her husband with her (ʿimmah),” suggesting that he was a full participant in the sin, thereby refuting in advance his later excuse.
I’ve already made my point about the preposition ‘immah, but I don’t think the plural pronouns are dispositive of the man’s presence, although I’m open to counterarguments.
- Lastly, it’s nowhere in the Hebrew or English text, but Western tradition holds that the fruit was an apple. The source of this tradition is the Vulgate, Latin translation and wordplay between “evil” malum and “apple” malum (at least in certain declined forms. I’ve done no Latin myself, so perhaps someone can enlighten as to Latin declensions.) Thus the tree of knowing-good-and-evil can also be, at least in Latin, the Bible for a thousand years, the tree of knowing-good-and-apple.
Tomorrow, finishing comments on v.7.