If you could be magically transported into Eve’s body before she reached for the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, would you pick and eat it, knowing what you know of life?
As I research the stories of Eve and Lilith for my novel Women of a New Moon, I return often to the original Garden of Eden stories in Genesis. The story of humanity’s exile from paradise has a bittersweet allure. Who doesn’t dream of being welcomed back to the original utopia where illness and hunger didn’t exist, where death was unknown, and life was gentle.
All of Creation was the embodiment of goodness, as God proclaimed. But did Adam and Eve experience Good? Could they understand what goodness was when they had known nothing else?
However if you were in Eve’s body in the Garden of Eden, with all that you know, you would have a soul-deep understanding of the tradeoffs inherent in the decision to eat the apple from that one forbidden tree. To not eat would mean to be immortal, protected, and forever innocent. To eat would mean death for you and all your descendants, and struggling every moment of your short life. You’d be awake to good and evil, kindness and hurt, love and hate, and all the passions and needs that would beset your flesh and spirit. Moreover, it would be unending – until the day you die.
My friend Saroj said that she would not eat the fruit. She would love to return to paradise. The comfort and beauty of the Garden of Eden would be pure joy for her, and she would appreciate the wonders it would offer.
I believe if Eve had known what awaited her outside the gates of paradise, she would have agreed with Saroj and would never have even looked at the Tree of Knowledge. On the other hand, Lilith – the woman that myth says was Adam’s unyielding first wife – fled the Garden of Eden, choosing to be free from his dominance even if it meant being damned for all eternity.
Like most feminists, I agree with Lilith’s choice, not because of any man’s presence or the existence of any dominant authority, but because my deepest hunger would never be satisfied by what Eden would offer. My joy requires the freedom to exercise my mind, spirit and body fully. I would taste the fruit and relish the flavors and textures of that apple, just as I embrace the pleasure and pain that every moment of life offers me. I prefer to be awake, to know and understand. I may make choices that are sometimes moral and sometimes selfish. But every choice — and especially every mistake – are mine, based on who I am and what I have learned over the years. More importantly, each choice can teach me who I may become.
When I think of Eve and Adam’s existence in the Garden of Eden, they seem to me carefree creatures practically undistinguishable from the other animals who shared paradise’s bounty. Every need they might have had was anticipated and provided by a loving caretaker God. But that existence was static, with no opportunity to learn or grow, to become thinking individuals who question and seek to understand. Eve’s choice to eat the fruit was the metaphorical first step in our evolution to become fully human.
That doesn’t mean I don’t long for an Eden where kindness reigns. Given the level of food insecurity and hunger suffered by millions, the unrelenting horrors of war and conflict, the evils of domination and inequality, and the pain and suffering of illness, including the great sorrows of the pandemic – given all that humanity suffers, the appeal of a return to Eden is undeniable.
What do you think? Would you have eaten the apple, knowing what you now know?