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Bill Moyers examines Adam and Eve’s tasting of the forbidden fruit and their subsequent expulsion from Eden. The discussion looks at freedom of choice, the nature of good and evil, the meaning of sin and issues of gender and sexuality.



God planted a garden in Eden and put man in it. And God planted there many trees and right in the middle of the — garden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said to Adam, “Eat freely from every tree but one. Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you eat from that tree on that day you will die. Yes, die.”

And, after woman was created she dwelled in the garden with Adam and all its creatures and all its beauty including the trees God planted there.
Now the serpent was the most shrewd of all the creatures. He said to the woman,

“Why don’t you eat from every tree in the garden?” The woman told the serpent that they couldn’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

They must not eat from that tree nor touch it, or they would die. “You will not die!” said the serpent. “Your eyes will be opened, you will gain knowledge and become like the gods yourselves. You will understand the difference between good and evil.”

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, lovely to look at, and could make her wise, she took the fruit and ate. She gave it to Adam and he took it and ate it too. And the eyes of both were opened. They knew they were naked; so they made clothes for themselves with fig leaves. And as they walked together in the garden they heard the voice of God in the cool of the day, and so they are among the trees.

“Where are you?” God asked.

“I heard your voice in the garden,” Adam said, “and I was afraid because I was naked.”

And the Lord God asked, “Who told you you were naked? Did you eat of the tree that was forbidden?” Then Adam told the Lord that the woman had given him the fruit from the tree. The Lord asked the woman, “What have you done?” And she said,”The serpent tricked me and I ate.”

“You are cursed,” the Lord said to the serpent. “Because you did this you will crawl on your belly in the dust from now on;'”You — and — the woman will be enemies.”

“And you,” God said to the woman. “Because you have done this, sorrow and pain will go with the bearing of your children and still you will desire your husband he will rule over you.”

And to Adam the Lord said, “Because you have listened to your wife and not to your God, you will toil and sweat to bring food from the ground. For you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Then Adam named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all the living. And the Lord sent Adam and Eve out of the garden. God said, “Now that man has become like us and knows good from evil, what if he should reach out and take also from the tree of life and live forever”

So God banished Adam and Eve from the garden and placed winged creatures and a flaming sword to guard the Tree of Life at the east of Eden.

BILL MOYERS: If this were the only source we had about God, what would we know about God?

STEPHEN: Nothing.


STEPHEN: Nothing. Genesis is a character. And he’s a character among characters which means, it’s an extreme diminishment of the mystery at the source of the universe. And that’s something that can’t be made into a character. These are stories that we tell each other about God.

FATHER RUIZ: I would say that this story tells us quite a lot this about God. Because the God who creates Adam, the God who creates Eve. Up until that moment we have no notion of the dimensions of this God; how large this God is or how complex. It’s almost as though this God stands outside of creation. But then we learn that this God walks in the garden that he has created, that this God thinks, that this God deliberates, that this God communicates with creatures and also that this God is affected by the decisions that are made by the creatures in the Garden. This is not a God who is unchanging —

NAOMI: I see God as very caring. He only created me — me and Adam — only at the very end, after he fixed the nest, he feathered the nest, he provided the food like a good parent who fixes the nursery before you put the baby in there. And then he gives us free choice, which is the greatest gift, a great priviledge. We’re told that we’re made into his image again — there isn’t a more generous, incredible gift that you could be given. I mean, I walk in the street and I can’t believe that I was given that gift. And — so I see him again, as a — somebody very — as — as a — a God who’s very caring and who’s given me the most generous gift of all and that is all the ways in which I’m different than the eagle or the rhinoceros or the beetle.

ROBIN: Now, I don’t see this as — as a loving parent because at — at least not if we’re talking in contemporary standards, because a loving parent does not as a result of transgression curse and completely overturn the order that he has just established… I don’t think that God has to be a loving parent in this. In this story, I think he’s the Creator.

And — and his motivations are not announced. At every step what’s announced-is His reaction and also his — his puzzlement. And he goes — it — I think one of the most fascinating texts in Genesis 3 is where he takes counsel and says, “Well, what if this one becomes like one of us and then who — ” This is obviously a tremendous problem that —

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of that very turn (LAUGHTER) that — that suddenly God is saying probably in — in the plural. Who’s the us?

ROBIN: Good ques — I don’t know the answer to that question.

BILL MOYERS: Oh well, why did we ask you then (LAUGHTER)?

ELAINE: I was — I was — I was — oh excuse me. I don’t see the story either implicitly or not that-­ that — that the human was made in God’s image. in the first stories, it’s not here at all. Nor did he create the whole creation as a grand triumphant procession, you know — towards an intelligible universe. That’s the first story. Here He’s — He — He makes a man, then he makes the animals ad hoc, then he makes a woman, you know, and — and it’s — it’s — it’s quite different. And then, you know, He — He makes a prohibition and — and when the man and the woman transgress the prohibition, he seems quite apprehensive, lest they become 1ike the other divine beings.

LEON: He says they have become like the other beings.

ELAINE: They have.

LEON: Yeah, it — it’s — it’s a, in fact, in this story, it’s man — the human being comes to be godlike, only as a result of transgression. That’s — that’s the common thought that’s now the man has become like one of us knowing good and bad. Therefore, what if? So that this seems, I mean, not to be a story of the — only of the “fall of human beings,”-. but in a way of their rise from animated dust in the ground to. being somewhat godlike in all of its pathos and ambiguity.

ELAINE: Well, we often take it — in the story as though it were about, you know, the development of human moral insight, you know, which it is in a way.
But it’s not something God wants.

LEON: Indeed.

ELAINE: I mean, something He — He prohibited —

LEON: Indeed.

ELAINE: — from the very beginning.

BILL MOYERS: What were them — what —­

ELAINE: Well, he — they’re not supposed to take this fruit and — and — and find the knowledge that is of good and bad or whatever, you know, whatever that — knowledge is…

ROBIN: I was teaching in a Catholic High School religion class once and — and I said, “What do you make of it.” And one kid who had apparently sleeping in the back, he jerked his head up and he said, “He was trying to keep us in the dark.” Which I thought was absolutely right. It was a — a dead on perception that — that God had meant us not to be able to distinguish between good and evil which we then we — and Adam and Eve then — were able to. And he really got a compromise at the end, because the second tree wasn’t reached. So, it’s not completely — humans didn’t come — become completely godlike, but they they edged up to it.

LEON: Likened the respect of-­


ROBIN: Right, yes, correct.

LEON: knowing as being concerned with good and bad.

BILL MOYERS: Why would God wanna keep us in the dark?

ELAINE: Well, he would lose his edge (LAUGHTER). What strikes me is the way that God says that on the day you should eat — eat of this of this fruit, you — you will die. And — and the serpent says you will not die. I mean, the serpent gives another whole perspective on this event which is also as accurate or more accurate than what God says.

BILL MOYERS: You mean God is not telling the truth, they don’t die —

ELAINE: I didn’t say he wasn’t telling the truth, I mean —

BILL MOYERS: — alright, but they don’t die.

ELAINE: It’s — it’s — it’s — it’s a different and the serpent is as least as right in the story.

STEPHEN: The serpent is telling the truth.

BILL MOYERS: They eat and they don’t die —

STEPHEN: They don’t die — they don’t die, their eyes are opened. But you know, the knowledge that they’ve gained from eating this fruit comes to be a very-­ really pathetic — what they know is that they’re naked and what they feel is shame and is this-what makes them godlike?

MARIANNE: I think it’s a story also about accountability and there’s a kind of wisdom or knowledge that human beings have or can get while being accountable to God. There are boundaries that are set and there clearly is a kind of wisdom that belongs to God alone, that God does not give to human beings. And it is wrong for human beings to try to usurp — that kind of knowledge or that prerogative of God’s. So, I think the story is also about — to whom human beings are accountable and that there are boundaries beyond which they cannot step — not for some arbitrary reason, but because it is who they were created to be, who we — we were — created by God to be.

So, that you — you — when — you saying one thing and God saying the other and — you can decide the serpent is right, or you can say, “If God really is the Creator, then the serpent’s gotta be wrong in some way, even if it’s not obvious in the text.” It’s a decision you
make as you read it.

ELAINE: Well, he’s clearly wrong in some way and so is God. I mean, when you talk about the knowledge —

MARIANNE: How is God wrong?

ELAINE: — well — on the day you eat of it you will-

MARIANNE: They don’t drop dead on the spot, right?

ELAINE: No, they don’t. I mean — but the other thing is you say, moral accountability, what they discover is that they’re naked. I mean, !sthis what God knows, I mean, I — this — it — it — it’s curious juxtaposition of knowledge and sexual awareness in this story. I mean, it’s a very weird and strange and powerful juxtaposition.

BILL: … Someone has said that — that serpent is the symbol of Eve’s awakening sexuality.

NAOMI: May I — butt into this and I really feel very strongly about that. (LAUGHTER) I think that what’s amazing about this is. That in these few, laconic, elegant lines, I think you get a story of an allegory of growing up and leaving home and that part of growing up and — maturing is sexual awareness, curiosity, development. I think that the snake — the serpent who in — in Hebrew the word, “ARUNG” (PH) he’s naked and he’s cunning and we know that in ancient times, the snake is a symbol of fertility. It’s a phallic symbol — to me the snake is — is a external symbol of what’s happening within Eve when she’s awakening and it’s her inner yearnings and awakenings that are talking to her and saying, “You it now, Adam’s a nice boy,” or “Look at him.” or “You can be curious.” It’s time to leave the family radius and to see about the boy next door. And then the genius of it is that the sexual awakening is tied up right,from the start with the pleasure and responsibility, behavior and its consequences.

FATHER RUIZ: In terms of this responsibility, and in terms of the relationship of these two human beings, not only to each other, but — but to God.

NAOMI: Right.

FATHER RUIZ: Why has God put the tree in the garden?


FATHER RUIZ: And forbidden them to eat from the tree?

NAOMI: B — Because, you know if you’re a parent, you tell the child, “There’s a cookie jar in that cupboard. But don’t touch it because you’re going to spoil your appetite before dinner.” But I as a parent, having brought up a few children, know that if I’m not looking, or I’m in the kitchen or somewhere, they will go and get something out of the cookie jar. And in the story the words “sin,” or “punishment” are never mentioned — Sin mentioned when one person murders the other, in “Cain and Abel.” But as — this is about us growing up, about crossing limits, boundaries, and there are consequences. But they’ve not done anything so wrong. Eve takes of the fruit because she wants to be wise.

LEON: I — think there’s a more radical — response to Father’s question. If God makes a human being — that means He’s made a being that at least, potentially, has freedom. And to live in freedom means to live on the basis of one’s own autonomous opinions about what’s good and bad. To exercise free choice, is implicitly to act on some notion
of better and worse. And yet — a benevolent parent knows that the freedom to choose is not the same thing as choosing well. And there’s kind of profound warning about — freedom and
which are expressions of our latent humanity — are fraught with all kinds of dangers to our own happiness and well-being.

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting then that within the realm of freedom, Eve is committing a perfectly reasonable act? She looks at this tree, she says, “It’s good food. It’s a pleasure to eat. It’s a delight to the eyes. And one could become wise by eating from it. “What’s wrong with wanting pleasure, beauty, and wisdom?

MARIANNE: It’s — it’s a violation of what God has said is good for her. And so it’s takes God’s command and makes it into one of the many options to be considered. And then she does call the shots. And therefore, she becomes autonomous. And when she becomes autonomous she also loses some of her freedom. A — you could distinguish be — autonomous as independence from God, as opposed to freedom within the limits of the garden that God has set.

NAOMI: I also think that God knew, in a’ ay, what was going to happen. Once he gives them free choice, by making them in his image, he is giving them the ability to defy, to question.


NAOMI: She just will not take blind — command. She wants to understand them. Furthermore, God never talks to her directly. He talks to Adam. She gets it
as a rumor — sort of third — through a — a-­ another person. And I think the idea of the Serpent, again, is all a struggle that she goes through. She isn’t impulsive. I’ll just take the fruit — the way Adam is a lot more gullible about it. She looks, she wonders, she — she weighs it —

MARIANNE: How do you know that?

NAOMI: Because the story has three verbs —

MARIANNE: She wonders, she looks, she struggles —

NAOMI: Because there are three verbs — she looks, she wonders sensually, and only then, she takes the risk. When she gives him the a — the — the fruit, he takes it. There’s just one verb describes it and (LAUGHTER} — and that’s it.

STEPHEN: It’s very curious that in terms of the story, God puts the tree right in the middle, creates the Serpent, creates Eve with this curiosity. And it’s — it’s — it’s a set-up, I think, in story terms, for something to happen. And so — my sense is that He’s a God who is only partly conscious. He wants His children to obey, and he also is making it very likely that they’re going to disobey. The intelligence of the story wants something to happen.

MARIANNE: It’s really not so much a set-up in that — you could argue that they have been told what it is they can and cannot do. Their choices are really fairly unlimited. It’s not as if all the other trees are — are dying, and stunted little branches, and here’s — happens to be tne best that there is. For all we know, there are millions of trees as nice as this one. But this is the one they can’t touch. And of course, you say, “Well, see, that’s the set-up. They wanna touch it.” But on the other hand, it hasn’t been made that complicated It’s knowing how to live wisely in the world that matters in this story, and that’s what I see, at least — Adam and Eve, in a sense, failed to do. So that I’m not so sure I would call it a set-up in the sense that they are doomed to failure, but as you’ve said, Naomi, they do have to make choices, and those choices will have consequences.

FATHER RUIZ: I find something — rather disturbing in the recognition that this is a story that is being told by the descendants of Adam and Eve. And that they are telling the story in order to address, among other things, the dilemma of the fact that people choose evil. That people choose to act in ways that violate the divine prohibition. That people mistake the evil for the good, and act toward the evil as though it were good. And it’s the dilemma of their descendants that is being addressed in the story. The — the anguished cry of how this can happen, not just once but again, and again, and again, and again to destroy life.

BILL MOYERS: But if you.-were looking· back, ·Father,Ruiz, what did Adam and Eve do wrong in that garden?

FATHER RUIZ: I don’t know if the story necessarily answers that question. Perhaps it just asks the question, because Eve does, apparently, all the right
things. She listens, she observes, she seeks knowledge. Somehow, that’s not enough. She eats the fruit. Adam eats the fruit. And somehow, something is gone. Something has gone awry.

LEON: Why do you call those all the right things? Why aren’t those the very wrong things?

FATHER RUIZ: Because they seem to be the ways in which human beings subsequently arrive at making prudent decisions about how they’re going to live their lives. Taking risks.

LEON: Yeah? Well, Marianne, please

MARIANNE: I would characterize it as a failure of trust. They don’t believe that God is trustworthy, that what God .says -Will happen, or that what God prohibits is good for them.

FATHER RUIZ: But they’re in the perfect garden. They have no reason to assume that anything in this garden is noxious to them physically, or that any one in this garden will lie (OVERTALK).

MARIANNE: Except that God has said, “Don’t — don’t eat of it.” So that they know there is something that God thinks is bad for them.

ELAINE: Part of the play of the story is, what is good and evil? I mean — I mean, it looks very good. And-­ and the story is — is set up — you know — so that they have to. They simply have to do this thing. But you know, it struck me — people talk all about — the autonomy of these creatures. I mean, it seems to me, Adam doesn’t have a lot of autonomy. He has a choice. He either obeys God, or he obeys the woman. And, in the story, those are his only options.


ELAINE: And one is bad, and one is good. And — as it’s set up. And it — as I’m hearing this conversation, it’s about the — you know — how do you tell what’s good and evil? I mean, it — it becomes a puzzle, you know? So that people say, “Well, you know, it was good what they did.” And other people say, “No, it was terrible what they did.” (CHUCKLES)
And — and really, there’s not a resolution in a simple way to that question.

MARIANNE: Except that the story thinks it’s bad, in that they have to leave the Garden. There is a kind of judgment passed on what they have done. If it were that good, wouldn’t they be allowed to stay?

NAOMI: But maybe it also teaching us — through that story — again, for you and for me today — that none of us can be immortal. That we’re — we’re — we’re mortal, we’re human beings. And that you cannot go back. Once you’re out in the world, you have to become responsible human beings. It’s also all about responsibility.

ROBIN: But you know — one of the problems I have with the way this discussion is going — is that there is no analogy to this story in human life. I don’t think we can — assume that our reactions are meant to be like Adam and Eve’s reactions, because they were acting in the land of bliss and contentment which we can’t know. And — (LAUGHS) — what do you mean by that? (OVERTALK)

LEON: Stephen is from California.

STEPHEN: I disagree. (LAUGHTER) I — I disagree. I think that everything — in any — serious spiritual practice, is about Eden and bliss. And that’s the whole point of it. That’s the whole point of Jesus’ teaching, or the Buddha’s teaching, or any­ any of the great spiritual teachers. And it’s possible —

ROBIN: Well, maybe an Eden, but not that Eden.

STEPHEN: Oh, thank goodness!

LEON: Wh — what do you make of the fact that Adam and Eve are never mentioned again in the Hebrew Bible? Never?

STEPHEN: I think — the old writers weren’t particularly troubled by that problem, and didn’t have any conception of a Fall. I think that they — they felt perfectly secure in the trust that — Abraham and — and the others had in God, and — would have been appalled at — I beg your pardon — at the Church’s — interpretation of that story to — mean original sin, and that all human beings were corrupt from that, from then on. I think that was absolutely foreign to the rest of the Genesis story.

LEON: We’ve been talking about the story so far as if it might very well be a history. I mean,,to treat each of the characters as if there was this story, and God did this, and — What if one read it — as —­ a great tale, which serves as a kind of mirror — in which the reader can see something — profound about — the human condition and our place in — world? What if, one said, “Look — we suffer badly in this world. Life is hard. There is loss, there is separation, there is self-division, there is shame, there is guilt. Why is our life like this?”

This story, it seems to me, shows us the fundamental psychic and social elements of human life, not just in the past, but permanently ours-­ and shows us that the f — that the troubles that afflict human life are not, somehow, owed to a stingy nature, or to some kind of external malice, but that the seeds of our troubles are within us. And that — if one reads the story in this way,
then one is much more friendly to the subsequent tales that show you some kind of alternative of how to live, not with apparent knowledge of good and bad, but with a wiser knowledge of good and bad, which — to speak, I think, biblically — comes — not autonomously, but through God’s revelation of —

BILL MOYERS: So you’re saying that trouble begins with — with us. With our choice?

LEON: Yeah.

ELAINE: Leon, I think that’s what the story says. But that’s part of the problem with the story. It blames all of our participation in nature — I mean, suffering, pain and death — on human fault. I mean, I think that’s an amazing, powerful statement, to — to claim, or if you like to pretend that all of these conditions are the fault of human moral failing, and not because they’re built into the nature of the universe.

BILL MOYERS: You’re saying that it could be God’s fault?

ELAINE: That’s the only other conclusion this story allows. That’s the t — part of the problem with the story. It has to be somebody’s fault, the way the story’s set up. So, it might a — I — the story says, “No, it’s our fault.”

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that i — it’s possible that we suffer because of God.: —

ELAINE: No, I just mean the first story says, God made the world and it was good. And then the question-­ well, why is it then so difficult? Why does it hurt so much? Why do we die? And the second story comes and says, well, it’s not His fault. It’s our fault. (CHUCKLES) And — and — I mean —

LEON: Well —

ELAINE: — it’s a powerful reversal of our everyday experience, just the way Eve being born from the man is a reversal.

LEON: I mean, the immediate consequence of the eating — the immediate consequence of the transgression-­ doesn’t require God’s intervention at all. “The eyes CSf them both were opened, and they saw that they were naked, and they made themselves coverings of fig leaves.” That’s — God hasn’t in intruded upon that. There is some kind of sadness — and shame in that first discovery. G.o.ing from there forward it’s true that they are afraid and stand somehow in awe of this figure. And they somehow know how far they are from Godliness. But I’m not sure that I would read the rest of the story as punishment.

In fact, I think that — one might even try to argue that mortality is something of a blessing for a creature that lives with this kind of divided consciousness and these sorts of miseries. I would even suggest that what the punishment really is is that God makes known to this pair, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you what you’ve just bought when you’ve bought autonomous
knowledge of good and bad. You’ve bought partial separation from nature, you’ve bought division of labor. You’ve brought — brought upon yourselves-­ rule and authority. You’ve brought you on yourselves civilization and the arts. And that is sorrowful.

ELAINE: But Leon, have we brought upon ourselves pain and death? Does that make any sense to you?

LEON: Well, —

ELAINE: Did we invent these? I mean, we1re not part of nature then. I mean, that’s what the story says.

STEPHEN: I’m — I’m not convinced that this story — doesn’t think that death was there from the beginning.

LEON: Yeah.

STEPHEN: And meant to be there.

ROBIN: I would agree.

STEPHEN: Because after all, the tree of life was not eaten from.

LEON: Right

STEPHEN: They were not immortal.

LEON: Right.

STEPHEN: So it’s — something different that happened. And­ one — point in the story that I’m very interested in is what happens after this small God starts quizzing them. You know? Adam says “Oh, it’s her fault.” And Eve says it’s the serpent’s fault. I would have been very curious as to what the serpent’s response would’ve been had God-­ (LAUGHTER) — asked him. And I suspect that he would’ve pointed and completed the circle. Pointed right back to God.

NAOMI: We’re doing the same thing though. We’re a scapegoating God about everything.

STEPHEN: We’re scapegoating this God in the story —

NAOMI: Well, —

BILL MOYERS: But this is God’s creation.

NAOMI: Death, in a way, and I’m not talking — depending on what kind of death, but if we’re talking in general terms, without death I don’t think we would appreciate life. I think we need the contrast. I think it — adds an urgency to life to know that we’re not going to go on forever. That we want to accomplish certain things. Again, we’ve got the ultimate freedom of interpretation. Maybe the fact that I maybe sound like a Pollyanna in this group, is maybe because I — I don’t want to accept that life is so terrible. My God, if he gave me life and said you’re not immortal, I want to choose to some degree to see it as a blessing. I don’t want to come out of it completely pessimistic. I can’t have a relationship with a God who punishes me through death.

BILL MOYERS: But maybe death is not punishment.

ELAINE: I just find this a paradox. It’s not a solvable thing. This story is written from·the viewpoint of people who live in this world, okay? So they’re saying well why, why is it this way? Where is there — so tries to exempt God from — from the distress. But what it does in the process is take us out of our connectedness with the interrelationship of all of the natural world.

LEON: I — I see that all together. I mean, there is a way in which being both sexual beings and mortal beings we are like the animals. The decisive difference is that we know that we are sexual and­ — and mortal beings. And that difference and the judgements that we make and the way we either live — with or against that knowledge is the decisive difference.

FATHER RUIZ: I think there’s more. God says various things to and about the serpent. But among them there is the mention of the very deep disequilibrium that is going to exist between human beings and the rest of creation. Hos — hostility even — so that the writers of the story see a world where snakes, venomous snakes bite children and children die. And recognizes that this is not-.good. That this is disorder. That there is something about this that should not be a profound disequilibrium between human beings and the rest —

LEON: I grant that there’s some division. But there’s still — a kind of relation between the human and the earth which — is supposed to go on even after the expulsion. It’s true that the-earth is somehow cursed and we will earn our bread only in the sweat of our brow. On the other hand, human beings belong to nature but they don’t simply belong to nature.


LEON: And that’s — that’s not inventive, that’s just true. I mean, we — we are capable of somehow stepping in part outside and influencing it both for better and for worse. That’s our blessing and our curse. That’s —

STEPHEN: That’s our nature. that’s just the way it is. Hm? That’s our nature.

LEON: It’s our nature.

FEMALE VOICE: It is our nature.

STEPHEN: But in that sense, that itself is nature. I mean, if — it’s part of the whole.

LEON: Indeed.

ROBIN: It seems to me that, you know, not — the question is not only, you know, how is it that we are in this situation of division, choice, productivity, lack of productivity-­ sterility, fertility, etcetera which we find ourselves and then the story is created or recalled out of that. But the story also is how come we can’t find God? You know, God is — we hear him but we don’t see him. He shows up, he disappears. And there’s no longer any easy Congress (SIC) such as there was. Right up until the point at which God announces the consequences for the eating of the fruit. Consequences which he perhaps is not creating as a punishment but which are already there in the order of things. There’s nothing in the story that tells us that God is punishing, as a result of his own arbitrary imagination, Adam and Eve. It seems to be the-­ simply in the story stated that this is the case. And likewise, to return to these interesting human subjects for a minute before going back to God, it’s very interesting to me that everybody here, no matter what their apparent disposition, to read — this — circle of blame, you know — Adam-­ Adam blaming Eve and then Eve blaming the serpent as if there were a blame in some kind of — you know, weaselish activity here. Which in fact, it seems to me that what is being stated is simply THE case. This is what happens. When God asks-­ Adam what happens, he says this is what happened. And then he turns to Eve and she says this is what happened. Which is really a statement of the -.truth. You -know?


LEON: Well, there’s a little mischief in there.

STEPHEN: I know somebody who refuses to teach it to his young daughter because of the harm he feels it would do her as a — as a female. And — when I read the story — and Adam points to Eve — it seems to me that — if Adam could have said, “Yes, I ate from the fruit that I wasn’t supposed to eat,”-­ the whole story would be different. He would still be in paradise. And in fact —

ROBIN: I don’t see how you can say that — the story would have been different because it was in the very eating of the fruit, not necessarily in God’s decree — but the very act of eating the fruit. Somehow this fruit is powerful. We haven’t talked about the fruit yet, and — and what it conveys. But, somehow, it effects, in the story, an interior change — in Adam and Eve which leaves them different from what they were before. And we’re about to see God depart (LAUGHTER), as well as Adam and Eve depart. So it’s not just — it’s not just, it’s not just that Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, but in a sense, God is-­ expelled from the Garden too.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ROBIN: Well, God departs in the sense that, no longer is he going to be — walking among his — dear human beings — in the cool of the day. This never happens again.

BILL MOYERS: In fact —

ELAINE: Isn’t that God’s fault? I mean, the serpent says, “Though — if you eat this, you will become like Gods.” And at the end, they still have the potential, you know, the — the men and women have become like us, knowing Good and Evil. And then, God —

ROBIN: But it’s not completed, Elaine —

ELAINE: — eliminates them from the Garden.

ROBIN: There’s a further step they could take. Namely, that the bridge between mortality and immortality — would be crossed.


ROBIN: And that — that is prevented from happenning. I don’t know that I would call this God’s fault, because I’m not sure that God is himself personally responsible or meant, in the story, to be personally responsible.

LEON: What are the things that bother you about God in the — in the story that we’ve been talking about?

ELAINE: The — the limitations of his knowledge. I mean, if — if we just take the story as a story, the-­ the competitiveness with the creature that he’s made at the end —

STEPHEN: The punitive…

LEON: What — what —

ELAINE: The punitiveness. I mean, I’m taking the story as a story, okay?

LEON: But what competitiveness?

ELAINE: Well, I love that amazing statement at the end -­ the man and woman have become like one of us, now lest they reach out their hand and eat of the fruit of the tree of life and live forever -­ (“dash”). I mean, whatever could happen then will never happen, because the story is stopped.

ROBIN: But the story itself doesn’t give us that he’s — that he’s jealous or competitive. The story gives us an indication of boundaries which may not be crossed. And particularly on your point of omniscience. What’s the problem with this God that he’s not-omniscient?

ELAINE: It’s not just that he’s not omniscient. It’s-­ that’s what I said before, that — that he and the serpent give different and accurate pictures of what happens, and both quite incomplete.

LEON: What’s incomplete about what God says? On the day you will eat thereof, dine and you will die (PH).

ELAINE: Well, they don’t.

STEPHEN: It’s untrue.

LEON: But what actually does that remark mean? Does it mean it’s poisonous fruit and you will drop dead as soon as you eat it, does it mean I will strike you dead, does it mean that —

ROBIN: You’re on the road to death.

LEON: — your — you will become mortal? Which is in fact — and you will know that you are mortal, which ..is, the:announced condition. You will go out in dust —

STEPHEN: But they were already mortal without eating from the tree of life.

BILL MOYERS: But they didn’t know it.

LEON: But they didn’t know.

STEPHEN: Well, but he says — he doesn’t say on the day that you eat the tree you’ll know that you are — I mean, it’s — it’s a very straight forward statement.

LEON: The innocent — the innocent creature does die, and a different kind of being is born as a result of that (UNINTEL)

STEPHEN: That’s a bit sophisticated, it seems to me, for this story. But as for — as for God’s, you know, punitiveness, that’s the main reaction of people who were, say, thinking of telling this to the their young daughters. Besides the whole — the whole weird subservience of woman as a punishment. It — it’s like saying to your kids “it’s not good for you to eat those cookies, don’t touch them,” and then they of course at some point do.
And then saying “Okay, you’re out.”

BILL MOYERS: You don’t burn the house down.

STEPHEN: You’re on the street. You know, that’s it. By no standards of compassion or even teaching could that be a good parent.

BILL MOYERS: So what is the story teller trying to make with that point? What’s he trying to do with it?

STEPHEN: I think he’s trying to explain human misery and, the way the story works out, the kind of God who is necessarily a — a figure in this little drama is a — an authoritarian, punishing God, and a rather unpleasant figure.

LEON: Boy, I don’t see that.

NAOMI: You know, I come back always to the same point. And I — I don’t want to sound rigid. I think we’re making a mistake by constantly trying to focus on God and — and what is God all about. At least for me, coming from my particular tradition, I’m also taught in the ten commandments that I cannot mention God’s name in vain. And constantly about God — is He this way, is He that way, what­ — what —

STEPHEN: Do you think that’s in vain?

NAOMI: Yes, I feel that’s in vain. And I feel that the emphasis should be on what does the story in Eden, about an Adam and Eve, say about you and me today.

STEPHEN: On the surface of the story, it’s saying, because Eve ate the fruit, she is punished by being subservient to her husband.

BILL MOYERS: Is that how you think the storyteller is telling it, Elaine?

ELAINE: Sure. I mean yes, the submission of Eve the appropriate social (overtalk) consequence of human nature —

BILL MOYERS: I’m struck —

ELAINE: — I mean that’s what this writer says.

BILL MOYERS: I’m struck that this story — in this story, Eve, the moment she takes the fruit and finds it delightful and delicious she takes it to Adam and she shares it with him. What does he do? He snitches on her. That’s an interesting — and as a result of snitching on her, he gets to rule over her, right?

FATHER RUIZ: This brings me back to something that I — that I started off with, which is the question of how human freedom works in this story. Eve’s freedom in making the decision to take the fruit and to eat the fruit, Eve’s decision to give the fruit to Adam, Adam’s decision — in taking the fruit and eating the fruit, what does this — I wonder — wonder dynamics of human freedom. Are they more free before or are they more free afterwards? Are we freer east of Eden, or not?

ROBIN: Well, yes and no is the only answer to that question. We rush to — to bring 19th and 20th century concepts to this story, namely that — that Eve is now to be ruled over by her husband in a kind of classic Victorian patriarchal way. Is that what it means? I’m not so sure. Certainly in the garden they had one kind of freedom. It-was a freedom ·from time and obligation, division, distortion. Afterward — afterward it seems to me. You get the description of human life as it is. That is, women desire their husbands — true enough. They’re husbands push them around -­ true enough. And — the earth does not yield just because we are walking around anblessing it with our — our presence. It too takes subjugation and domination. But, I think that the question-­ which immediately beco — which — immediately causes rage and fury and perhaps rightly so is, how could God have — put women in this position as a consequence of something which was certainly a mixed — event, anyway, namely, the eating of the fruit and the sharing of it with Adam at the suggestion of the serpent. And, it seems to me if you take the text on the level of the text — what you have is a God describing the actions and the consequences as He has come to be informeq of them. As if He Himself — somehow — were not completely in control of the situation.

ELAINE: Are you saying he doesn’t endorse them?

ROBIN: I don’t know that he endorses them or not and I don’t think the story tells us that. It seems to me that he doesn’t render a value judgment when he — when he tells Adam and Eve and the serpent, the way things are now going to be. He doesn’t say —

ELAINE: It’s not a judgment to say “Cursed is the ground because of you,” or because you have done this, I will —

ROBIN: No, it isn’t. He said — no, I don’t think it is a value judgment, Elaine. I think he says —

ELAINE: I thought it sounded like it.

ROBIN: This is the way it is. He doesn’t say, “This is good and I like it.” He says, “It’s cursed. Because this has happened.”

BILL MOYERS: Well, perhaps God doesn’t ordain it, but certainly agents of God, whether rabbis or — or — priests or preachers have interpreted this text, the second part of this text, wives be submissive to your husbands. How many times did I hear good-hearted generous souls, wonderful men in the pulpit, preach that wives be submissive to the husbands, and they ran the — the — the — the road, the yellow brick road backward from Paul to Genesis.

LEON: I understand but — stay — stay in the story. What does the man hear in all of this? The man hears-­ that she is going to bear children. He renames her — He celebrates her remarkable, he accepts responsibility for those children. Now that’s not necessarily the way of the world. That’s certainly not the way of our primate forebears. If one can bring in evolution. We — we somehow assume monogamy and equality, where, as it seems to me, the burden of the text is to teach, especially the males, what it means to live in relation to woman and her generative possibilities and transmission.

ELAINE: Of course. Excuse me. The text isn’t about monogamy. I mean, polygamy is certainly an option which is fully available in all of this.

LEON: Fair enough.

ELAINE: See, I — I just don’t see this text as sort of a divine revelation which talks — which tells us about God so much, as a — as a cultural story which tells us everything about our culture.

LEON: So you think that this story —

ELAINE: I don’t mean that’s all — it is. But that — that’s a lot of it.

LEON: You think that what we learned from this story is the mind of the people who wrote it. Nothing fundamental about men and women?

ELAINE: I mean, it seems to me that if we take it as a description of the way relationships between men and women work, often enough we’ll find it very accurate. You know, sadly. But the question is, is it also meant to be not only describing the way we live descriptive, but is it also prescriptive? It is also the way it’s supposed to be? And, I see the text — it is. I mean, this is a story that starts out with two beings involved; and both of them are male, right? One is the deity, and the other is his creature, who’s a human. But solely
a male. And the female is made 1ater for him. It seems to me that it’s saying clearly that God ordains an order in which the woman is punishment­ — is submissive to the man. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

FATHER RUIZ: This is the crucial distinction here. Whether the story is a story that functions as a description of the way things are, as a description of the status quo. Or, as a story that invokes divine authority — to enforce prescriptively these particular roles as they stand in that order. If it’s descriptive, I have no problem with that. If it’s prescriptive, that is, if it’s defining an order as that which is decreed by God as the way things must be, things become substantially more complicated, and things — become substantially
more difficult in reading and understanding and the apropriating this story.

ELAINE: But, it is a story that comes out of a culture that regarded that as the proper order. I mean — (OVERTALK)

STEPHEN: And it’s been read that way for thousands of years. And I think that all of that — serious and extremely, to my mind,unhealthy history hovers around the story. And we have to view — that’s one reason that — I find elements of the story so repulsive and dangerous, because it has been used that way.

LEON: Let’s — let’s operate for the moment on the assumption that what you have here is not God’s endorsement or prescription of these new relations, but he’s still — simply saying to them, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you how it’s go­ — how it is now.

STEPHEN: It’s not descriptive. It’s not descriptive of what a marriage can be, and often is now. So even on that level, it’s not the way things are. In my marriage, that’s certainly not the way things are.

ROBIN: So that’s not what’s meant. In fact, it’s not even — it — it’s not even descriptive of the way future relationships will be in enesis itself. It’s a descriptive of the way it is for Adam and Eve. And·the consequence of this particular act.
And then — That··h· — e·

BILL NOYERS: is — to rule over here — because… she was —because she disobeyed God.


STEPHEN: That means noth — it means nothing about the human race of the future.

ROBIN: Oh no. It doesn’t mean nothing about the human race. But one of the most interesting things that it means is that great changes are going to come about. And change — change is — is ambivalent. That is, things can change for the better. And things can change for the worse. But I don’t think that’s even — the end of the story in male and female relations.

BILL MOYERS: No. No, no.

ROBIN: …or it’s not the end of the story in either — (OVERTALK-UNINTEL).

LEON: I want to grant that in this relation of inequality, of rule and obedience, there is division, and the ground for abuse of power. And possibly even something wrong with it that has to be corrected. I’m not say — In oth — I’m suggesting that this is not a prescriptive account but rather this is somehow the way things happen
in the absence of instruction.

MARIANNE: Well, one of the questions I had is, without making too much of the syntax of the sentence, because you have done this, therefore, I will do something. So what happens to Adam and what happens to Eve is directly related to what they have done. Does that necessarily mean this holds for all times and places? or if somehow you can undo the effects or the results or the consequences of what they did in the garden? Then can you also change that relationship between them so that — to the extent to which those are linked — can you by changing the other? That, of course, is part of Christian theology. And I think the one thing we haven’t taken into account is the possibility that Adam and Eve could’ve acquired some kind of knowledge in a different way — in maybe there was a way to come to what — what we all think is apparently better than what they got without eating of that tree. And — we don’t know the what if’s.

NAOMI: There’s no other version.

MARIANNE: There’s no other version. So we can only read this one. But you can’t therefore necessarily assume that the life they have afterwards is the best of all possible worlds. Maybe there was something else.

ELAINE: One of the major messages that I read in — in the stories of Genesis, the Creation stories, is that God is God, and human is human, and the two are utterly distinct, or Martin Buber said, holy other. Right?

LEON: Okay.

ELAINE: And when I read mystical interpretations, whether they’re Jewish, or Christian, whether they’re ancient or contemporary, they question, you know, that — they open up that possibility. I remember Moshe Idell in Jerusalem, speaking about the divine and the human as a kind of continuum. And that is that the — the al — the other side of reading these stories is — is usually all about. It’s — it’s questioning where that boundary is placed and understood to be, between the divine and the human. And I think that’s a very-deep and important question that — that these stories raise.

LEON: That’s very nice —

BILL MOYERS: Does this Creation story impede or confirm your faith? Your experience of God.

STEPHEN: Neither.


STEPHEN: Both? (LAUGHS) That’s interesting.

MARIANNE: It confirms it, but not simply in that — you struggle to understand the God in the story; to understand the human actions, so in that sense, I say it’s confirming because faith is a struggle with and towards God. So you might have thought that would be impeding it but, insofar as it can even raise the questions of the reality of God and what God asks, then it leads to faith. I mean because even to have that question raised for us — Is there a God? Did God create? Does God have a will for human beings? Even to raise those questions, I think, presents to us the option and the challenge of faith.

ROBIN: Actually I think Eve is a really great model of faith. Why? Because in the Catholic tradition, faith is always seeking understanding. And — and there was nobody seeking understanding in this story if it’s not Eve. You know? Now —

BILL MOYERS: She gets punished for it.

ROBIN: It’s — dangerous business… The rabbis knew that. The mystics knew that.

ELAINE: Of course, faith is — is a peculiar term. I mean — I mean, faith in either what we mean by it.


ELAINE: I mean, what strikes me is — is — is a — is a fascination with a religious dimension of our lives that I need to struggle with. That’s why I do this. And the stories play with it and against it. And I find I explore them. I struggle with them, because they — they do and do not speak to that dimension. They speak to it and they speak against it in the same story. And that’s part of the strange fascination and — and — and —

MARIANNE: But if they only always spoke what we wanted to hear; or only.always spoke to us, then where — where would the — the challenge — or — or you’d have no holy other, would you?

ELAINE: Well, what I mean is, it — it — it speaks to the limits of our religious imagination.


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