Adam and Eve usually get a pretty bad rap. After all, their story is normally referred to as The Fall—that can't be good. See, these two are leading a totally idyllic existence: in the buff with no shame (2:25); and in a garden, with fruit trees (2:9), cool breezes (3:8), rivers (2:10), and a deity who's known to visit them while strolling in the evening (3:8).
Not bad, right?
The one thing that's off limits is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit God forbids them to eat (2:16-17). But eat they do. Surprise, surprise.
As a result of their eating, which might be understood as disobedience to God and hence the first sin, the two's idyllic existence is radically transformed into the kind of life that is more familiar to us mortals: death (3:19), endless labor (3:18-19), infertile soil (3:17-18), patriarchy (3:16), painful child-bearing (3:16), the threat of snake-bite (3:15), blame (3:12-13), shame (3:7, 10), awareness of nudity (3:7, 10), the need for clothing (3:7), and estrangement from the deity (3:8-9).
When we look at it this way, Adam and Eve are the archetypal human beings who are disobedient, sinful, and prone to suffering. Because of Adam and Eve, all of humanity is forever banished from Eden and can't gain access to the tree of life. Don't even try to sneak in—fierce otherworldly warriors and a flaming, revolving sword stand guard (3:21-24). Yeah.
Just to underline the point, the name Adam is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning "man" ('adam). Yep, this is the story of us all. Thanks for nothing, Adam and Eve.
Reading the story of Adam and Eve as "The Fall" is probably the most familiar way for most of us. After all, stalwarts like Paul, John Milton, and Martin Luther read the story this way and have kind of conditioned us to do the same.
But what if we change things up? Hear us out for reading #2.
Here, Eve is a hero who wins culture for humanity. Her act of reaching for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (3:6-7) is archetypal not of humanity's failure, but of humanity's relentless striving for knowledge, morality, culture, and civilization.
After all, what happens after Adam and Eve eat the fruit? They gain knowledge of good and evil (3:5). Their eyes are opened (3:5, 7). They become more like gods, as both the serpent and the deity recognize (3:5, 22). And they successfully complete the first of humanity's cultural achievements when they sew (i.e. invent!) rudimentary clothing (3:7).
Not too shabby.
Adam and Eve's actions can be read as the beginning of the advance of civilization, which continues throughout the opening chapters of Genesis: Cain will construct a city (4:17), Jabal will raise livestock (4:20), Jubal will invent music (4:21), Tubal-cain will make copper and iron tools (4:22), and Noah will be the first to cultivate grapes and invent wine (9:19-21). Thanks, guys.
The deity, of course, isn't psyched about humanity's sudden advance. But why all the harsh punishments? Well, these two have become far too god-like (3:22) and the punishments are ways of keeping them in their place. That's right—God wants to be sure he stays Top Dog.
The Israelites' God isn't the only god who fears human advancement. Remember when Prometheus is punished by Zeus for stealing fire and giving it to mortals? Eve is kind of a female Prometheus, eating the fruit and stealing knowledge for all mortals. So, are we supposed to thank her for all that civilization has to offer?
It's your job to duke it out: rise or fall?