While in California, Sam and I were able to sneak off on a date to Murphys where we ritually go wine tasting, visit friends and peruse the local bookstore. Unexpectedly, I came across The Bible According to Mark Twain and knew immediately that I had to buy it. I was not aware of Mark Twain’s fascination with the biblical narrative and especially with Adam and Eve. Most interpretations I’ve read on the first chapters of Genesis have been from biblical scholars. But here was someone who would have a wild imagination in regards to the “first humans” and might have something interesting to say.
The Garden Story has dominated the western world for centuries. Subtle references are continuously made even in pop culture, such as Cardi B’s question “why is the best fruit always forbidden” in her recent song “Girls Like You.” The movie Ex Machina is a modern retelling of the creation account with some dark twists (for example, the Eve-like character chooses to leave the garden instead of being forced out while the man is trapped in a hell-like paradise…intriguing). And most of us have some sort of Apple device in our homes where we daily look at a bitten apple. Books are still being published on the subject, like the Harvard literature professor, Stephen Greenblatt’s recent work The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve that traces the reception of Adam and Eve through western history.
Eve by far gets most of the attention and not in a good way. She is a major example for women not to follow as the still popular books The Bad Girls of the Bible and Eve in Exile argue. Both these works are written by women for women and portray Eve as the anti-type of the “godly” woman. But Twain and Greenblatt tell a different story. They view the Garden Story not as fact but myth which allows Adam and Eve to be seen in a different light. Twain wrote two dairies on these characters, Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary, and his accounts are fascinating and hilarious. He portrays Eve as intensely curious and in a good way. Eden is described as a lonely paradise playing off of Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Once Adam and Eve are together, their intensity for knowledge only increases and they yearn to know the meaning of the words “Good”, “Evil”, “Life” and “Death.” For Eve, the logical conclusion to gaining more knowledge could only be found in eating from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” So she went after what she desired. Twain puts Eve’s thoughts into words after eating the forbidden fruit:
They drove us from the Garden with their swords of flame…And what had we done? We meant no harm. We were ignorant, and did as any other children might do. We could not know it was wrong to disobey the command, for the words were strange to us and we did not understand them…If we had been given the Moral Sense first–ah, that would have been fairer, that would have been kinder: then we should be to blame if we disobeyed (Eve’s Diary, 67).
Eve’s Dairy jumps forward in time with an interesting conclusion to what their expulsion from the Garden was like, “It is three months. We were ignorant then, we are rich in learning, now–ah, how rich!” Is Twain indicating that it was right for Eve to eat the fruit? I think so. He uses Eve’s actions to show how having a sense of right and wrong, pleasure and suffering, life and death are some of the needed qualities that make us human. What are we without them?
In Adam’s Diary, Twain emphasizes the intrinsic need for human companionship by Adam choosing to leave paradise with Eve instead of remaining in it alone:
After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. Blessed be the sorrow that brought us near together and taught me to know the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit (16).
Twain concludes Eve’s Diary in a similar way: “The Garden is lost, but I have found him, and am content” (31); and Adam declares at Eve’s gravesite, “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden” (33). With these two diaries, Twain took the normative perception of the Garden Story and flipped it on it’s head, especially in regards to Eve. She isn’t depicted as weak or deceitful. Also, the desire to return to the Garden is gone.
Which brings me to Stephen Greenblatt’s recent work, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. Greenblatt impressively traces the variety of ways that Adam and Eve have been received throughout the western ages with an emphasis on how the biblical story has been used as a strong excuse for misogyny. His book is laced with plenty of terrible quotes about Eve and women from revered church fathers and he isn’t exaggerating. For instance,
And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve?…You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. (122, quoting Tertullian on women’s apparel)
Are women really this terrible? Clearly not. But Eve has been used for centuries to stereotype women as deceitful, susceptible to temptation, and promiscuous causing women to be wary of themselves and one another.
The stories we believe have a powerful influence over our lives. Therefore, how Eve’s story is told makes all the difference. What the Garden story provides is an explanation for why the world isn’t a paradise and Eve is used as the catalyst for that reality. The fruit needed to be eaten and Eve was willing to take the risk. Maybe Eve is no longer to blame for everything afterall…