Josephus on the Fall

While discussing the the account of the fall in Genesis, I said among other things that the most reasonable way to read the account implies that all the animals could talk. I received a personal comment to the effect that this idea is ridiculous, with the implication that I invented it. I agree that it is a ridiculous idea, if we are to suppose that the account is a historical one; but I have given reasons for believing that it is not such an account, and the fact that the text seems to imply something that we would not suspect of being the case historically, is simply additional support for this.

As for whether I invented the idea, I gave reasons at the time for reading the text in this way, and I won’t repeat them here. However, I am certainly not the first to read the text of Genesis in this way. Josephus states in his Antiquities of the Jews, 

God therefore commanded that Adam and his wife should eat of all the rest of the plants, but to abstain from the tree of knowledge; and foretold to them, that if they touched it, it would prove their destruction. But while all the living creatures had one language, at that time the serpent, which then lived together with Adam and his wife, shewed an envious disposition, at his supposal of their living happily, and in obedience to the commands of God; and imagining, that when they disobeyed them, they would fall into calamities, he persuaded the woman, out of a malicious intention, to taste of the tree of knowledge, telling them, that in that tree was the knowledge of good and evil; which knowledge, when they should obtain, they would lead a happy life; nay, a life not inferior to that of a god: by which means he overcame the woman, and persuaded her to despise the command of God. Now when she had tasted of that tree, and was pleased with its fruit, she persuaded Adam to make use of it also. Upon this they perceived that they were become naked to one another; and being ashamed thus to appear abroad, they invented somewhat to cover them; for the tree sharpened their understanding; and they covered themselves with fig-leaves; and tying these before them, out of modesty, they thought they were happier than they were before, as they had discovered what they were in want of. But when God came into the garden, Adam, who was wont before to come and converse with him, being conscious of his wicked behavior, went out of the way. This behavior surprised God; and he asked what was the cause of this his procedure; and why he, that before delighted in that conversation, did now fly from it, and avoid it. When he made no reply, as conscious to himself that he had transgressed the command of God, God said, “I had before determined about you both, how you might lead a happy life, without any affliction, and care, and vexation of soul; and that all things which might contribute to your enjoyment and pleasure should grow up by my providence, of their own accord, without your own labor and pains-taking; which state of labor and pains-taking would soon bring on old age, and death would not be at any remote distance: but now thou hast abused this my good-will, and hast disobeyed my commands; for thy silence is not the sign of thy virtue, but of thy evil conscience.” However, Adam excused his sin, and entreated God not to be angry at him, and laid the blame of what was done upon his wife; and said that he was deceived by her, and thence became an offender; while she again accused the serpent. But God allotted him punishment, because he weakly submitted to the counsel of his wife; and said the ground should not henceforth yield its fruits of its own accord, but that when it should be harassed by their labor, it should bring forth some of its fruits, and refuse to bring forth others. He also made Eve liable to the inconveniency of breeding, and the sharp pains of bringing forth children; and this because she persuaded Adam with the same arguments wherewith the serpent had persuaded her, and had thereby brought him into a calamitous condition. He also deprived the serpent of speech, out of indignation at his malicious disposition towards Adam. Besides this, he inserted poison under his tongue, and made him an enemy to men; and suggested to them, that they should direct their strokes against his head, that being the place wherein lay his mischievous designs towards men, and it being easiest to take vengeance on him, that way. And when he had deprived him of the use of his feet, he made him to go rolling all along, and dragging himself upon the ground. And when God had appointed these penalties for them, he removed Adam and Eve out of the garden into another place.

Josephus clearly believes that the account is a literal one, and while presenting my own argument, I noted that this was in fact the common reading throughout history. But he also indicates his belief in certain details: as that God “deprived the serpent of speech,” which means that the serpent had the power to speak in general, and that it was not simply a question of a demonic temptation. He also begins with “while all the living creatures had one language,” which implies that all the animals could use language, and the serpent was merely an example of this.

Even if it is not absolutely necessary, the implication that all the animals could talk is a fairly natural reading of the text of Genesis. The main reason that someone might not notice this reading is the presupposition that in fact they could not talk, and that Genesis must be an account of the actual facts.

The Fall

Genesis 3 tells the story of the fall of the human race:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Eve exaggerates God’s command, adding the precept not to touch, while God had only said not to eat from the tree of knowledge.

It is possible that the reader is intended to understand the serpent to stand for a demonic power. However, this would be a secondary level of understanding. On one level the text is presenting a story which must be understood literally in order to be understood correctly. The serpent is as truly there as the loincloths made of fig leaves, for example. This is clear later when the serpent is punished by being made to crawl on its belly. Since this can only be understood in relation to the fact that real serpents do not have legs, we must understand a real serpent in this account, even if possibly one that had legs.

Given this fact, one might ask why Eve does not appear to be surprised that the serpent speaks with her. This can be understood from two things. First, the serpent is said to be “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.” This could mean that the serpent could speak but that the other animals could not. More likely, however, it simply signifies that the serpent was deceitful in a way that the others were not. The second fact is the odd fact we mentioned regarding the previous chapter, namely that the other animals were brought to Adam as potential partners. The most reasonable way to understand these things together is that all of the animals could talk, and therefore in an abstract way could be viewed as potential friends and allies of Adam. But in the concrete they were found to be wanting due to a lack of other kinds of similarity, and therefore God chose to create Eve as a more fitting partner. Eve is not surprised when the serpent speaks, therefore, because all of the animals can speak.

After eating the fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” As was said in the previous post, the implication is that Adam and Eve had a greater perfection before the fall and consequently were not ashamed. They lose this perfection in eating the fruit, and become ashamed.

The account continues with the consequences of their misbehavior:

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
And to the man he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Adam blames Eve, saying that it was her suggestion, and then blames God as well, saying “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” God then questions Eve, who blames the serpent. The serpent is not questioned, which suggests that God already understood its nature as “more crafty” than the rest of the animals.

Punishment is then announced for the three of them. The penalty for Adam consists in two things: the cursing of the ground and its consequences, and in his own return to the ground. The consequences of the cursing of the ground are that “in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” It is possible that Adam was meant to care for the garden in the first place, but apparently it was not meant to be burdensome. From now on his work will be a burden. The ground will bring forth thorns and thistles, or in other words it will not be docile to his work. And finally, even what Adam takes from the ground will be inferior in quality, the “plants of the field.” It appears that in the garden there was enough fruit that eating these other plants was not necessary. Later in Genesis this is extended to the eating of meat as well:

The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

This text implies that the human race was originally vegetarian, and that the animals did not begin to fear people until they started eating meat.

Adam’s second punishment is death, and God enforces it by removing the pair from the garden and preventing any possible return.

Adam and Eve

The book of Genesis, after the general account of creation in 1-2:4, proceeds to something like a historical account of creation in chapter 2. Here we find temporal sequence for the first time. We will consider whether or not the text has an invisible genre after looking at the account itself.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The text is not perfectly clear, but it appears to say that Adam is created on a barren earth where there may be seeds in the ground, but nothing has grown yet. Then a garden is planted in Eden, and Adam placed in that garden.

Eden appears to be a real place, known to the author. This is also suggested by other texts of Scripture such as this one from Ezekiel, “The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices, and all precious stones, and gold. Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad traded with you. These traded with you in choice garments, in clothes of blue and embroidered work, and in carpets of colored material, bound with cords and made secure; in these they traded with you.” The garden however would not be the whole of land of Eden, but a particular place within it.

The author seems to assume that the tree of life and the tree of knowledge are already familiar to the reader. We however have access to their meaning mainly through the biblical text.

In regard to the four rivers, only the Euphrates is assumed as familiar; descriptions are added to the other three, which suggests that the reader may not recognize the names immediately. This suggests that the text may have been composed in Babylon.

The system of rivers described is the opposite of what normally happens. Ordinarily smaller rivers join together into larger rivers rather than larger rivers dividing into smaller rivers. It may be described in this way in order to make the river of Eden responsible for the fertility of the whole world.

After this setting of the scene, the text continues:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Here we have the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge, and the creation of Eve. The other animals are brought to Adam as potential partners, before being rejected as unsuitable. Consequently God decides to make Eve as a more suitable partner. These events seem a little strange. I will say more about this when we look at the account of the fall in chapter 3.

Adam and Eve are naked but not ashamed. St. Augustine explains this in his City of God (Bk. 14, ch. 17):

Justly is shame very specially connected with this lust; justly, too, these members themselves, being moved and restrained not at our will, but by a certain independent autocracy, so to speak, are called shameful. Their condition was different before sin. For as it is written, They were naked and were not ashamed, Genesis 2:25 — not that their nakedness was unknown to them, but because nakedness was not yet shameful, because not yet did lust move those members without the will’s consent; not yet did the flesh by its disobedience testify against the disobedience of man.

In other words, according to St. Augustine, people are ashamed of nakedness because sexual desire is not completely voluntary, and is often nearly completely involuntary. This may or may not be the real explanation for the fact of shame about nakedness, but it seems clear that either this consideration or something similar is implied by the text of Genesis. Adam and Eve were not ashamed because their condition was in some way more perfect than our condition.