K X M John
Fr Zachariah introduces the topic
At the conclusion of the previous meeting, Fr Zachariah had suggested the topic for this meeting. And that was the episode in the Garden of Eden that led to Adam’s fall from grace.
God had planted “all manner of trees in the garden, fair to behold and pleasant to eat of”, including two special trees – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And God forbade Adam from eating the fruit of the second tree – the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
“Now the serpent was more intelligent and cunning than any of the wild animals God had made”. He could speak the language of Adam and was rhetorically skilful. He persuasively reasoned to Eve that God forbade them of the fruit, as He feared that they would become like Him if they ate it. She gladly fell for his guile. She ate it and gave one to Adam. Adam too had it; and all the evils originated from that single act of disobedience.
Fr Zachariah said it is only natural that anything said in riddle would trigger speculation. Riddle appeals to the idle curiosity of the commoner just as it ignites the imagination of the scholarly. When it carries nuanced possibilities, the subject becomes vulnerable to all kinds of intriguing interpretations across generations. The episode in the Garden of Eden is one such story that has given rise to a great variety of interpretations ever since it was written. My question here is – “How do you feel about this story; and what are your thoughts on it, beyond its plain narration in the Genesis?”
Sex in the fruit?
Prof Peter called to mind his own childhood imagination. He said, Adam and Eve indulged in sex. Thus they lost “innocence”. The world changed before them. They became conscious of their nakedness, and were ashamed. Before the act, they were like babes; and now, in one moment, they became mature, filled with self-awareness. The tree was certainly not a tree in the literal sense. And the serpent was nothing but Eve’s own inner consciousness. The conversation with the serpent was her own inner conversation. We, all of us, have serpents in us. The Professor added that, later, in his youth, he had heard of similar interpretations from others too.
A ‘pagan’ interpretation
President James said he recently read a strange interpretation. The serpent was a creature just below Adam, but above all other creatures. He could speak and argue with reason. And nowhere in the Genesis has he been identified with Satan. He was one of the wild animals that God had created. His identification with Satan came much later, by way of interpretation. He was perhaps a Neanderthal man, who was like man, but not created in the image of God. He mated with Eve. (Cain was born out of this sinful relationship.) And Adam either mated with a female serpent or had some homosexual connection with the Neanderthal man who had seduced Eve.
Were there humans before Adam?
Poet Roy said that Genesis Chapter 6 speaks of other human beings on earth – ie, human beings outside the lineage of Adam. He opened the Bible and read chapter 6: 1-2: “And, after that, men began to be multiplied upon the earth, and daughters were born to them. The sons of God, seeing the daughters of men were fair, took to themselves wives of all which they chose”. This narration raises questions such as: Were there human beings before the creation of Adam in His image? Who were the sons of God? And who were the daughters of men?
He further observed that in Genesis 1, man was created as male and female during the first week of creation itself (ie before God rested), and commanded them to increase and multiply. Adam’s creation comes later, in Genesis 2, and Eve was made subsequently out of his rib in appreciation of Adam’s need for a “helper like himself”. But God does not seem to have commanded them to increase and multiply. So, on balance, do we infer that (a) humankind was already there on earth when Adam was created and that (b) the humankind who were created earlier were required to increase and multiply, but Adam and Eve were not commanded similarly? Or, more probably, was the narration of Adam and Eve in Gen 2 just an extension and elaboration of what was stated in Gen 1 about the creation of man?
After all, the Serpent told the truth!
Prof Stephen said he too had been puzzled and agonised over the complexities Roy had pointed out. A difficult enigma, indeed, with no easy explanation in sight. In the circumstances, the professor suggested that such enigmatic issues be left aside and the present discussion be focussed on the fruit episode. And he read out Gen 3: 22-24:
“And He said: Behold Adam has become as one of us, knowing good and evil: now therefore lest perhaps he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken. And He cast out Adam: and placed cherubs before the paradise, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life”.
What does this mean? God himself says that Adam had become like Him after eating the fruit, and could distinguish between good and evil. That means, after all, the Serpent had spoken the truth that Adam would become like God after eating the fruit! Also why God says, “Adam has become as one of us”, in plural, as if there were plurality of Gods? Trinity is a later concept and it certainly is not the answer. Perhaps He refers to angels here. And God deployed a contingent of cherubs (angels) with a flaming sword to prevent Adam from eating the fruit of the other tree, namely the tree of life.
Thus God says that Adam would become immortal after eating of the tree of life. This implies that Adam had never been immortal, before or after his fall from grace.
Sorry, there was no sex in the fruit, after all!
Stephen continued. “One thing is clear. With due apologies to Prof Peter, I must contradict him here – there was no sex in the eating of the fruit. Here God himself says that, after eating the fruit, Adam became as God! How can anyone become like God after sex!” Everyone laughed. Fr Zachariah flashed an admiring glance towards Prof Stephen. Prof Peter heartily joined in the laughter.
Peter said, he had not thought on these lines. He added that the fault was in the teaching of the Bible. Most of us are brought up on Bible episodes as stand-alone stories, as if they were unrelated to one another – each story being studied in isolation – without interlinking the different stories – heavily interpreted and coloured. So, we know the Bible in parts, taken out of the overall context! Children would holistically understand the Bible if only they are encouraged to study the Book in an integrated manner. When I read the fruit episode, it was ‘sex’. But when Stephen linked it with another episode, ‘sex’ lost its flavour! What a pity! Laughter again.
Rosaline’s feminist ardour
Politician Rosaline said the trouble with the Bible is that all its books were written by patriarchal characters. Clearly, their MCP worldviews were hardened by simplistic formulas. If a woman were to write Genesis, we would have had on hand a different version of the fall of humankind. The original man lusted after a beautiful Serpent and got into trouble. And men continue to this day to follow his bad example!
Alice prefers literal interpretation of the Bible
Alice was getting uncomfortable with the direction this discourse was taking, which she termed as “perverse”. She said, the word of God would not err. The fault is ours. We have to humble ourselves to understand the scripture. The tree was literally a tree. God had given free will to man. The tree was no riddle, although its name sounded so. And God’s injunction against eating of its fruit was a test for the first couple. They failed in judiciously applying the God-given free will.
“The serpent was certainly satanic. Otherwise, what was its interest in misguiding Eve? Satan simply used the speaking serpent as his tool. Even Muslims believe that Satan tempted Eve. In fact they (Muslims) do not speak about any serpent”.
“No, Madam”, Roy said. Satanic influence is a later interpretation. We are taught thus from childhood without any scriptural basis in the Old Testament. I call this given knowledge, ie, knowledge handed out by authority figures. But our objective here is to go by the scripture and not by authority.
Alice was not amused by Roy’s interruption. She asked with some vehemence, why God should say to the serpent –
“Because you have done this thing, you are cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: Upon your breast shall you go, and earth shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmities between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed: She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel”. (Gen 3: 14-15)
Eternal enmity between the Serpent and the Woman
Dr Susan said: This is yet another unknown and unknowable. If the real villain was Satan while the Serpent was only a tool in his design, why should the poor serpent be cursed to crawl on earth and eat of its dust? And why there was no punishment for Satan? Also, it is difficult to believe that the foolish reptile of modern times are offspring of the intelligent and articulate Serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Engineer Antony asked: Do we notice any special enmity between the woman and the snake in modern times? The reptile cannot distinguish between man and woman. It bites both men and women alike if provoked.
Roy said: I have heard modern psychologists treating the snake as symbolic of the phallus, ie, the male organ. And teenage girls and unmarried women often experience dreams featuring snakes. Our psychologist friend Dr Susan may be able to throw some light on this aspect.
Secretary Leelamma was aghast. “How dare you speak so openly about such shameful things in the presence of our respected parish priest? And also in the presence of women? This is beyond our tolerance”.
Dr Susan said that the snake has been a phallic symbol in all civilisations in all eras. In modern times, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have explicitly dealt with this special association between the woman and the snake.
Leelamma said that the Serpent’s head would be crushed by woman, ie, by the Mother of Christ. Mary has already done this by bringing forth Christ into this world.
Dr Susan responded that this is a metaphor that had come into vogue in the Church much later. It is not part of the scripture; it is only an interpretation by the Church long after the event took place in the Garden of Eden. The metaphor is that the Serpent was instrumental in the downfall of Adam and his progeny, while Mary brought forth Christ who brought salvation to humankind thereby negating the effect of the original Serpent act. Thus did Mary “crush” the head of the Serpent. One should keep in view that the metaphor should not be confused with the real and vice versa. Modern women do not go on crushing the heads of contemporary snakes, nor do the snakes consciously seek out female heels to bite.
Father Zachariah thought he should intervene at this stage. He said, we are yet to discuss the concept of original sin. The doctrine of original sin is a complex subject that will surely defy deliberations at a meeting like this. Still, there is no harm in briefly touching upon it. One of you may like to initiate the discussion in that direction.
No Original Sin in Judaism and Islam
President James said, he had made an official visit to Israel in 1996 representing the Government of India. There he was guest for a day at the residence of a prosperous Cochin Jew. His Israeli name was Eliahu Churchgate. He hailed from Mattancherry and his original name was Elias Pallivathukkal. He left India by the late 50’s. After his immigration to Israel, he took up floriculture on an international scale and made a huge success of it. In his spare time, he also attended comparative religion classes in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He said, neither the Jew nor the Muslim believed in original sin. Adam ate the fruit, and he was turned away from the tree of life, and expelled from the Garden of Eden itself. He was given some punishment too. Also, the word ‘sin’ does not appear in the Bible in the context of Adam’s disobedience to God. The first time it is explicitly mentioned is in the case of Cain (Gen 4: 6-7).
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
In Islam, it is Satan, and not the Serpent, who instigated the couple to eat of the fruit. And later, Allah himself asked Adam to repent. He is merciful and would remit any sin of the penitent. Adam repented, and Allah forgave him.
“But”, James said, “frankly, I have no idea at what stage the concept of original sin evolved and became a cornerstone of Christian theology”.
St Paul, for the first time, articulates Original Sin
Engineer Antony took over from James. He read out St Paul’s letter to Romans 5: 12-21.
“Therefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death passed onto all men, for all have sinned. 13For until the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the similitude of Adam’s transgression, he being the figure of Him that was to come. 15But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one Man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.16And not as it was by one who sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is for many offenses unto justification.17For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ. 18Therefore as by the offense of one, judgment to condemnation came upon all men, even so by the righteousness of One, the free gift unto justification of life came upon all men. 19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous. 20Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, 21that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
So, through one man (Adam), original sin entered into the world, and another man (Christ) brought salvation for humankind. Antony mentioned that the Pauline doctrine was articulated in some detail by the second century bishop Irenaeus, and even more powerfully by St Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century by giving it a doctrinal character. Subsequently it was subject of debates at various synods over the centuries, before it crystallized into the present form as encapsulated in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church. He said, he had heard about some differences in detail among the Churches – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc.
Original Sin in Psalms
Roy thought that in Old Testament itself there were hints of original sin, although Jews may not accept it as such. For instance, David’s famous psalm of repentance (No 51), entitled Miserere, contains this famous line (no. 5):
“Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”.
The sin referred to herein could be original sin. Or, is it a reflection of the ancient mindset that was morbidly obsessed about ‘sex’ as an evil? And childbirth makes the mother ‘unclean’ till she is ‘cleansed’ through prescribed religious rites (used to be performed on the 40th day after the childbirth at the synagogue/ church)?
Fr Zachariah explains original sin
Father Zachariah appreciated Roy’s observations. But it was time to conclude the session and give his concluding remarks. He said, serious doubts have been expressed at the meeting and different and colourful views have been freely aired. I am happy about your cooperation and involvement. Doubts come from knowledge, and questions are symptomatic of a free mind. But, believe me, we may not get the right answers for all the right questions all the time. One needs to be patient, and needs to go on exploring.
And, original sin, he said, is regarded by the Catholic Church as the general condition of sinfulness (the absence of holiness and perfect charity) into which humans are born, distinct from the actual sins that a person commits. The Church explicitly states that original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. In other words, human beings do not bear any “original guilt” from Adam’s sin.
Let me read from the Catechism of the Church:
416. By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.
417. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”.
418. As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called “concupiscence”).
419. “We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, “by propagation, not by imitation” and that it is. . . ‘proper to each'” (Paul VI, CPG §)
Try to study the official catechism, preferably its English version. Read it again and again. The wordy Church English may be confusing at times (just as Padre Malayalam is all the time); but when you closely search for answers to your doubts, you would find it well presented in it.
There is this basic question in our old catechism:
Question: “Why did God create you?”
Answer: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
Look at the intelligent sequence here. Know, Love, Serve. You cannot love a person or idea without knowing him/her/it. You cannot serve or be committed without loving. So, to serve the Lord, you should love Him; and to love Him, you should know Him.
So, go on knowing Him, exploring matters spiritual, through free discussions such as ours, through the Bible and through the Catechism.
And the meeting ended with Fr Zachariah giving his blessings.
K X M John
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