Today, I focus on the very naive portrait of Adam and Eve. I compare Genesis 2-3 with a few ancient literary parallels, and I highlight the source of Wisdom and Life in Israel.
In the Ancient Near East (ANE), before and during the time of Israel in the OT, there were many varieties of Tangled-like tales. One character named Adapa was the mortal son of the god Ea. By the gift of the gods, Adapa was given a special food and drink which would produce immortality...only he was deceived into thinking it would kill him, so he refused to eat it. Too bad.
Another story is the Epic of Gilgamesh where a secret plant is disclosed to the title character, Gilgamesh. This plant was much like the magic plant in Tangled. It gives "new life," letting him "return to the state of my youth," Gilgamesh explains. And so he calls this plant of life, "Man Becomes Young in Old Age." Unfortunately for him, Gilgamesh never eats of this plant. While bathing in a pool of water, a serpent sneaks over and carries off the plant that gives new life (explaining, they said, why snakes shed their skin).
So, how does Genesis 2-3 fit into all of this? As I said above, special trees were a part of the lingua franca of that area and time. Genesis speaks this 'common language' with two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Certainly, Life and Wisdom seem like items YHWH would want his prized humans to enjoy. And He does--YHWH does want the man and woman to gain Wisdom that leads to Life. They just have to gain the Wisdom in the proper way, like a son grows up into a man.
In Eden and in life, Wisdom comes from, and by fearing, God. Proverbs 1:7 says it this way, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." On the other hand, the end of the simple is death (Prov 1:32). Adam and Eve show this same truth in story form. Wisdom comes first by fearing God and keeping his word. In their case, fearing God means not eating of the tree. Paradoxically, then, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would provide the benefit of wisdom to humanity--but only if they refused to eat from it. Eve was half right when she understood that it would give wisdom (Gen 3:6). Instead Adam and Eve show themselves to be simple-minded, deceived by the shrewd snake (explaining, they said, why snakes slither on their bellies on the ground). Seeking wisdom, they are deceived by wise wordplay. Sadly for Adam and Eve, forfeiting God's commands means forfeiting wisdom, and forfeiting wisdom means forfeiting the tree of life (Gen 3:22; Prov 3:18).
If you're reading Genesis trying to find a perfect pair, or the source of all sin, you’re probably in the wrong place. Far from perfect, we meet the very naive Adam and Eve. They're more like children, and we are waiting to see how they develop. By the end of the story we see these child-like humans introduced too early to the darkness of this world. Adam and Eve choose to heed the voices off the beaten path. Instead of fearing the Lord, they end up afraid of Him.
The dark reality of this story is that these mistakes become a pattern. Adam becomes the representative of all humanity (which is what his name means, "humankind"). Adam's mistakes soon become Cain's. Cain's are repeated on down to Lemuel. Eventually, Adam's story becomes Israel's story. Many scholars even point out how Adam is a mini-Israel: from nothingness (Gen 2:7), Israel is given a paradise land along with the commands of YHWH (Gen 2:8,16-17). Like Adam, Israel also constantly fails to live up to the command (Gen 3:6), leading eventually to their exile from the land (Gen 3:23-24). This motif of foreshadowing in miniature recurs throughout Genesis.
As in Tangled, so also in Genesis. Selfishly seizing the gift goes awry. Gothel greedily cuts Rapunzel's hair to steal the power, but it turns lifeless and brown. Eve's quest for a short-cut to Wisdom leaves her deceived, cursed, and ashamed. I would ask how your story compares, but I think I already know. Adam’s story is your story, too. The problem isn't just an Adam and Eve issue; it's a human issue. Praise be to God, for he gives us a reason to hope. Instead of a repeating pattern of failure, we see a glimpse of the God who is merciful and redeeming. YHWH atones for their sins, clothes their nakedness, and commits to a future son of promise, saying to the snake, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). Readers leave Genesis 3 expecting for a son to restore goodness to creation. Will the son seek Life in the fear of YHWH (Prov 1:7), or will he listen to the enticing voices off the beaten path, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood" (Prov 1:11)? (Come back next week for more about this son, Cain.)