So I just picked up a Hebrew copy of the Bible (which, for some odd reason, is impossible to find in the States) and was scanning through it, and had some random thoughts come to mind on the interpretation of the second genesis story and the story of the Tree of Good and Evil.
Fair warning: This starts out as a somewhat social commentary (on why the expulsion from the Garden is in fact divinely planned from the beginning) but ends up with a more mystical digression which most people will probably find mumbo-jumbo or simply incomprehensible. I’m not sure I understand it myself. The most incomprehensible chunk has been suitably labeled for easy skipping. You have been warned.
At the end of the second story of the creation of Man (ref. Gen 2:24, last line of ch. 2; the second story is the one that involves making man of clay and breathing into his nostrils, [thus neshama = breath = the divine soul] and building a companion out of a rib) it says “And thus the man [ish; vide infra] shall (must) leave his father and his mother and bind to his wife [isha] and they will be a complete being.” (Sorry for the literal-minded translation)
Immediately following this is Gen 3, the story of the tree of good and evil. It begins by specifying that they were both naked and unashamed, and so on and so on… then at the end of that structural story chunk (Gen 3:16-19) God is handing out punishments, that they be expelled from Eden together. Immediately following this is the line: (Gen 3:20) “And the man [adam] called the woman [isha] Eve for she was the mother of all living.” (The reasoning makes sense in terms of the Hebrew word, not strictly relevant here)
Why the non-sequitur? First of all: On the naming of things, earlier (in another apparent non-sequitur, Gen 2:19, randomly in the middle of God looking for a companion for the man) everything gets named according to its function. The woman’s only name up to that point was “isha,” which essentially describes her role as part of the separated being, the Adam split into ish and isha.
(The relevant note on words: The man is “adam” (from “adama,” soil, out of which he was made) until the rib is removed from him; this entity has no gender. The words “ish” and “isha” for the man and the woman emerge immediately afterwards.)
Thus the woman did not have the reproductive function until it was explicitly ordained in the punishment list, in the same place that the man is given the role of farming the land. (Note that this can be used to support the usual Christian interpretation of this knowledge as sexual rather than moral, but vide infra)
But second: This really completes the story started in the last line of Gen 2. The man and the woman are separated in Eden, having no functions which bind them together – neither food nor reproduction nor a need for any support in times of need, which did not exist, but once expelled they become dependent on one another.
Thus: the two divided souls need to reunite, but they cannot reunite as partial beings; only after expulsion (adulthood) can they even begin this process.
Warning: Cabbalistic mumbo-jumbo starts here. Skip unless really, really interested or masochistic.
Another note on “partial beings:” when the man is created (Gen 2:7) God breathes the breath (neshama) of life into his nostrils, and he then has the soul (nefesh) of life. The latter can also be translated as the animal soul. (The word for “animal” is basically “living thing”) Now, these two words are also the names of the highest and lowest souls, respectively: the neshama is the divine soul (the will, the comprehending intellect; it is what allows the man to name things according to their function, and the thing which distinguishes him from the animals which are simply booted in place) and the nefesh is the animal soul (the thing which interacts directly with the physical world and is sensate). Missing from this is the middle soul, the ruach (lit. “wind”) which is the moral soul, capable of judging right actions from wrong; in the standard cabbalistic diagram it is the heart of the man.
Interestingly, if one notes that the man is initially given the neshama, note also that it is only after he acquires the moral intellect (by eating of the tree of good and evil) that he is given a need to interact with the physical world, having needs that require fulfillment and are not granted automatically; thus here the man does not receive the nefesh in its full force immediately, but rather receives the souls in a progression from highest to lowest. (Cabbalistically: Mirroring the creation of the universe, from the highest Sephira to the lowest? Immediately after receiving the nefesh, he is expelled into the physical world; the three souls plus the world (malkuth) together are denoted by the four letters of the Name, thus completing the process of creation)
Also cabbalistically, what then does the division of the man into ish and isha represent? First the divine soul (neshama, keter) is created, and the seeds of nefesh are planted; this is the beginning of the central line of the tree of life. Then the man is split by gender, forming the beginnings of the two pillars on the side, chochma (wisdom, male) and binah (understanding, female). A careful analysis could probably track how each of the Sephiroth are generated as one goes through this text; the acquisition of moral soul (tipheret), and ultimate physical existence (both yesod – the reproductive organs of the abstract man – and malkuth, the physical world, the nefesh) complete the construction of the tree. But note that the male and the female pillars do not descend all the way down the tree! The lowest of them (hod and netzach) appear immediately below tipheret, and in order to descend further – to enter into the physical world and to complete the abstract man – the two must first be united, both in yesod (which n.b. implies the generative organs) and malkuth.
Thus this story can be read as saying: In order to complete creation, several things had to happen. First the man himself had to be built; then the man had to be split into a male and a female part, thinking in different but related ways; then they had to acquire a moral soul, in order to really understand and interact with the world, since a divine soul cannot directly live in a physical world without moral judgement; but then they must interact with the world, leaving Eden and its simplicity, and this they can only do together, in a pair; and implicitly in so doing, they are creating the next generation, so this cycle continues indefinitely. Thus again, the expulsion from Eden is absolutely necessary for humans to make any sense.
End of mumbo-jumbo
Summary of idea: The humans, after their splitting and before their expulsion from the Garden, are simply not functional beings. They have this divine soul – a free will – but no ability to interact with the physical world, either intellectually (morally) or physically. (In terms of having no needs of their own) The only way that the image of God (the abstract man) can touch the physical, created world is to first be expelled from Eden, and this implies the dependence of the man and the woman upon one another which can only come through mutual need and suffering. This is the thing foreshadowed in Gen. 2:24; the man and the woman will not be complete until they are united, and this cannot happen until they have each become complete and left the Garden.
Thus this interpretation of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden as something wholly negative, a sign of the intrinsic evil of man, as is favored by certain preachers I have heard – is just plain bullshit.
Second interpretation: (Mercifully, much shorter) (darklingrose, this one’s for you) Note that the man and the woman only eat the fruits of the trees and (possibly) the animals until their expulsion from Eden; part of the terms of expulsion is that they’re going to be stuck doing agricultural work. (n.b. in Gen. 3:18 the explicit last part that he will eat the grass of the field, something which apparently wasn’t the case beforehand) So is this also a historical reference to the transition from hunter-gatherer behavior to agriculture? n.b. also that the new position of women is specified in the preceding sentence…