Adam rested contentedly in the Garden. If we take The Book of Genesis at its word, all was perfect and pure. Opposites existed. There was, after all, a female companion for Adam named Eve, but they produced neither concern nor complication for the various named beasts and naked progenitors of human kind. At least not until the serpent came along…
The serpent, “who was more crafty than any of the wild animals the lord God had made,” practiced his deceit with the cunning of Socrates. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” he asked, leading poor Eve towards our collective doom. Only two trees—one mostly ignored—were forbidden with the pain of death. The serpent persuaded Eve that she would not die; instead, he told her, “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
We all know that Eve did eat the apple, and she convinced poor Adam to eat the apple too. The rest is an unfortunate history of pain and exile. But in light of last week’s thoughts, i’m most interested in the idea that the tree was of the knowledge of good and evil. There are the binary opposites, which Genesis tells us not only make us God-like but also constitute our fall from innocence and grace. An Indian sage might phrase the whole situation thusly: “There’s the moment we decided to play the game; that’s when we became trapped in maya.”
Trapped we are, and it’s all Eve’s fault. Well, except that Adam blamed the whole mess on God because he made Eve in the first place, and Eve blamed it all on the serpent. The serpent has had a bad rap ever since, being conceptualized as either Satan himself or a manifestation of the evil one. God punished him too. What i find interesting, however, is the role of the serpent in other traditions.* For example, the serpent Mucalinda protected the Buddha during meditation, just as he was about to achieve the wisdom for which he became famous.
Now, while it may look very cut and dried within the Christian tradition that we’ve all come to know, it isn’t. There’s a whole other Christian, creation myth that turns what we’ve heard on its head, and if you’re of the thought that Eve was framed (or you just like snakes), then it may interest you.
We need to back before the creation of man, at least with a rough sketch, to put the events of the Garden in perspective. In this story, Sophia (wisdom) made a grave mistake in her attempt to get closer to the ultimate and found herself trapped in a region close to Earth. In the sorrow of separation from good and her heavenly consort (Christ), she created a being to ease her loneliness. But she quickly realized that her creation was imperfect, having been created in sorrow and mourning. She named him Yaldabaoth (Child-lord) and after he went around proclaiming that there was no other God but himself, she called him Samael (the blind lord of death) or Saklas (the foolish one). We’ll continue to call him God, because it’s easier.
What God made was not the first man, but a replica of a heavenly man. It was a weak and pitiful creature until, by way of a cunning ploy, Sophia breathed life into earthly man. Unfortunately, God recognized that he’d been tricked and banished Adam to the darkness. Sophia intervened again, sending Adam a helper who hid inside Adam so as not to be discovered by God. Her name was Zoe (life), but we call her Eve.
The garden was a creation designed to trap man, because God knew that he would be unable to rule man directly. Eve wasn’t deceived by the serpent; he was her helper in a great deed. It was her job, as a manifestation of Sophia (again, wisdom), to give Adam the fruit of knowledge. As you might guess, this made God very angry. So angry, in fact, that he pursued Eve around the garden, and when he caught her, he raped her. The rape produced Cain and Abel, though there were other children of Adam and Eve who were not imperfect because they were conceived in a union of choice.
Exile from the garden was not punishment, but freedom from the deception of a God who was inherently flawed, angry and jealous. He was, however, ruler of the material world and he punished the daughters of Eve, making their lot in life particularly difficult. This story continues on marvelously through many of the Old Testament tales, but we’ll have to leave those for another day.
What i find interesting in this alternate, Christian creation story is it’s elevation of man, as opposed to the standard version which makes man out to be a weak, fallen creature. It has always struck me as strange that our religion would find its most basic structure in promoting ignorance over knowledge. Christianity is special in that regard. As we saw last week, many other great traditions make the path of man to know and even transcend. Christian tradition, however, has us still serving a punishment meted out by that angry God. From the looks of things, the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus really doesn’t matter in the standard tradition. He serves only to absolve us of Adam and Eve’s sin by his death, without addressing the situation of ignorance as bliss.
In the other story, Jesus Christ comes to Earth to finish Eve’s work. His role is to show us that we have the intellectual and spiritual power to break the shackles of God’s deception. And so it should come as no surprise that Christ is the heavenly principle in union with Sophia, or the reconciliation of binary opposites…the two into one.
I’ll leave you to ponder the implications of this in reference to Mary Magdalene’s role in the life of Jesus, or why certain strains of Christianity made a habit of calling the Catholic Church “The Church of Satan” until the 13th century.
*These other traditions actually include ancient Israel, where the serpent plays a dual role.
Categories: Religion & Philosophy