Genesis 3:6-7, The Moment (part 1)

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.

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4 Responses to Genesis 3:6-7, The Moment (part 1)

  1. juliemariesmith says:

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    (1) For a visual on this text being the lynch pin:

    Chiasmus in Genesis 2:4-4:1
    A “These are the generations” 2:4
    B No agriculture: “no one to till the ground” 2:5-6
    C Humans given life and put into Garden 2:7-17
    D Animal companionship inadequate for humans 2:18-22
    E Man calls her “Woman” 2:23
    F Explanation: “Therefore a man leaves his parents . . .” 2:24
    G Couple naked and unashamed 2:25
    H Serpent promises “eyes will be opened” 3:1-5
    I Transgression 3:6
    H’ The couple’s eyes are opened 3:7a
    G’ Couple experiences shame 3:7b-10
    F’ Explanation: “For you are dust . . .” 3:19b
    E’ Man calls her “Eve” 3:20
    D’ Humans wear skins of beasts 3:21
    C’ Humans denied immortality (for now) and expelled from Garden (3:22-24)
    B’ Agriculture begins 3:23b
    A’ Birth of child completes the generation 4:1
    Adapted from The HarperCollins Study Bible: NRSV, page 4.

    (2) This is pretty far afield of our project perhaps, but for a previous seminar, I looked at how the trees in this garden related to the tree in the final vision in the Book of Revelation and toyed with the idea that perhaps these trees represent the divine female.

    (3) A few quotes from my notes:

    “It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. And thus Eve and ‘Adam fell that men might be’ (2 Ne. 2:25). Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall. Joseph Smith taught that it was not a ‘sin,’ because God had decreed it. Brigham Young declared, ‘We should never blame Mother Eve, not the least.’ Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: ‘I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin. … This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin … for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!’ This suggested contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith: ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression’ (emphasis added). It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law. Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall. Modern revelation shows that our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall. Adam declared, ‘Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God’ (Moses 5:10). Note the different perspective and the special wisdom of Eve, who focused on the purpose and effect of the great plan of happiness: ‘Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient’ (Moses 5:11). In his vision of the redemption of the dead, President Joseph F. Smith saw ‘the great and mighty ones’ assembled to meet the Son of God, and among them was ‘our glorious Mother Eve’ (D&C 138:38-39).”
    –Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, November 1993, page 72f.

    “The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you want to stay here then you cannot eat of that fruit. If you want to stay here then I forbid you to eat it. But you may act of yourself and you may eat of it if you want to. And if you eat it you will die.”
    –President Joseph Fielding Smith, “Fall—Atonement—Resurrection—Sacrament,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 1982.

    “As we advance toward perfection, there will be higher laws revealed to our understanding and benefit that will replace those of a lower order. This truth was first taught to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, when the Lord gave them two choices: (1) not to partake of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17); and (2) to multiply and replenish the earth (Gen. 1:28), which choices call for obedience to a lesser law or a higher one. They chose to fulfill the higher law.”
    –Elder Delbert L. Stapley, Conference Report, April 1967, pages 30-34.

    “We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done.”
    –Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Constancy amid Change,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, pages 33.

    “Adam and Eve did the very thing the Lord intended them to do. If we had the original record we would see the purpose of the Fall clearly stated and its necessity explained.”
    –President Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, page 66f.

    I’m fascinated with the ‘Eve chose the better part’ LDS reading. It is, obviously, appealing to feminists. However, it seems unable to explain what on earth the serpent is doing there.

  2. rosalyndewelch says:

    I love your linguistic expertise, Ben, thanks. Some thoughts on verse 6. I’m struck by the irony that the first recorded instance of the “male gaze” — that is, a desiring, coveting, objectifying (?) gaze — is actually exercised by the woman, as she gazes on the tree. Perhaps Alter takes it too far when he calls her gaze “lust,” but she is not merely appreciating or admiring the tree: she desires it, because it gratifies her senses, or promises gratification. And so she takes the fruit. The serpent earlier told her that in eating of the tree her “eyes would be open,” but the text doesn’t seem to ascribe this to her immediate motivation: she takes and eats because she desires. (This seems to me one problem with the LDS re-reading of Eve; it has to import an intentionality that isn’t supported in the text.)

    It’s interesting to know that the text may imply that the man was also present. And yet it was the woman who conversed with the serpent: it was she who first experienced the destabilizing experience of dialogue and heteroglossia, she who was open to verbal intercourse. So while it’s wrong to understand Eve as a temptress, I think it’s also wrong to understand the man and woman as fully equal actors in the incident. The woman was the driver.

    I’ve speculated before that perhaps it was the instrumentalizing of the relationship between human and plant — the tree was not simply, intrinsically lovely, it was “lovely TO LOOK AT,” it was lovely for the benefit of the humans — that brought on the negative changes in the character of Eden (trying to avoid imposing a “fall”, here!). Perhaps also the idea of *spectation* is part of it. Things lovely to look at, eyes being opened — these are important and recurring thematic loci. The woman invented a prohibition on *touching* the fruit, and instead consumed it with her eyes, gazing and desiring. She is indulging in sensory gratification all the same, but has chosen to flatten it into the once-removed, fantasy-laced act of looking/leering. Free associating here, the poverty of that form of pleasure is what makes pornography as a substitute for sex so repellent to me. Maybe when the woman actually reaches out her hand, touches the fruit, grasps it, bites into it, tastes it — still using the fruit for pleasure, yes, but at least it’s a fuller and more alive kind of pleasure — perhaps that is actually a redemptive gesture.

  3. Candice says:

    I think of how the three things Eve sees in the fruit are three basic forms of enjoyment– perceiving beauty through our senses (we could connect this to all kinds of aesthetic), internal pleasure in our bodies (such as eating), and the joy of learning. The fruit symbolizes all of this. Humans all long for these forms of enjoyment. It isn’t just the fruit of knowledge, it’s the fruit of joy and pain. In some ways, it’s just another version of the tree of “life.” It is the life experiences that make physical, embodied life worth living. It is what is given in mortality and what must be received if it is to be lived. As Rosalynde suggests, it isn’t enough to just perceive this enjoyment, it needs to be assertively taken up, chosen, consumed, enjoyed, received. It’s the bitter/sweet cup we all drink.

    In relation to Eve taking an active role in the transgression, based on this discussion, I wonder whether we should celebrate the fact that she plays an active, key role in the myth more than anything, regardless of what she may or may not have known. We should praise her even if her perceptions of the goodness of the fruit were very child-like and simple. We don’t need to exalt her as already wise, or wiser than Adam, but we can and should praise her for her desire to become so. I personally feel joy when I think of her being tempted out of a desire to be “like the Gods,” and what this might mean about her love of the Father and her relationship with him.

  4. Adam Miller says:

    Really excellent discussion and comments on this section. Maybe the best we’ve had so far (and maybe assisted by my absence!)

    Let me add just one thought to what we’ve said.

    Verse 6 says that “the woman saw the tree was good . . .” How does the woman ALREADY know that something is GOOD if she hasn’t eaten the fruit of the tree yet? How does she already possess the knowledge that the tree itself is supposed to provide?

    It’s interesting, too, that vs. 7 doesn’t report that eating the fruit supplied the knowledge of good and evil. It just says they’re eyes were opened and then they saw their nakedness.

    Is seeing their “nakedness” the same thing as now seeing “good and evil”? Is it implied? Did eating the fruit do something different than they expected?

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