Touching, she perceives depth beneath the surface beauty that is visible to her eye. Eve feels the vibrant life pulse of the fruit, the seeds at its core. In one compelling instant she senses the potency the fruit conceals. Eve resonates with its purpose to plant and grow seed in fertile moist ground. Seeing it, touching it, she becomes aware of her own longing for union, to grow, and to bear fruit. In one continuous gesture, Eve conceives desire to ingest the beauty of the Tree and its potency, and fulfills it. She takes the fruit into her being.
This episode opens the momentous project of choice and responsibility. Having created the entire universe alone, God yearns for partnership, intercourse with purposeful beings who are capable of sharing in creation. God seeks a will independent of the divine self, and not necessarily obedient—this is one of the purposes and divine intentions for creation. Therefore, every divine prohibition implicitly contains, even proposes the possibility of transgression, disobedience. When Eve eats from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, Good and Evil, she exercises her divinely-intended will to choose. Rather than continuous with her Creator, Eve establishes herself in a relationship with her Creator, face-to-face. By her utterly human, risk-taking, and adventurous spunk, Eve initiates and activates free choice.
Eve’s concupiscence intensifies when she tastes the succulent flesh. Eating, she seamlessly offers the fruit to Adam who is, fortuitously, positioned alongside her. He tenders no resistance or hesitation at her suggestion. Adam responds and receives; he participates willingly and, we presume, desirously. Eating fruit together, they discover eros; they perceive themselves and each other’s nakedness afresh. An adolescent flutter of excited embarrassment about their ripe bodies ripples subliminally through the text.
Adam and Eve are too often read as everyman and everywoman—the archetypes of male and female people. There is no need to interpret this biblical chapter as an etiological tale to explain how patriarchy came to be, nor to justify it. No other man and woman is implicated in the garden scene qua male or female. None of these behaviors necessarily has anything to do with maleness or femaleness. Adam and Eve represent only themselves in their unique life situation, at the beginning, each behaving according to her and his unique personality and choices. John Milton writes of Eve’s daring, and portrays Adam as a hero for eating.i A powerful literary scene, the Garden of Eden beckons us into a world, opens to us our sensuous surroundings, and invokes our potential self-awareness. The text offers every person access to the experience, but does not determine or even allude to a gendered world-view. Adam might similarly have felt desire, longed for knowledge, for union and fruitfulness. In our biblical version, Eve initiates—she inseminates Adam with the fleshy fruit; Adam receives and accepts.
In the text, Adam and Eve attain their new self-consciousness together; they also respond to their shared experience by sewing clothing together. Erotic consciousness accompanies the revelation of knowledge of “good and evil” to woman and man alike. Desire for knowledge fused with sexual desire ultimately costs them their immortality. Where both Eve and Adam fail utterly in their garden debut is not in their disobedience, but in their incapability to accept the consequences of their choice and their action.
i “Bold deed thou hast presum’d, adventrous Eve, And peril great provok’t, who thus hast dar’d” Book VIII describes Adam’s calculation: his desire for Eve is so great that he prefers to eat than lose her. John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost (first published in 1667/8).