Why Were Adam and Eve Expelled?

 

 The classic Christian understanding is that Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden because they disobeyed G-d’s commandment not to eat the fruit. This is not actually what the text says, but everyone is guilty, to some extent, of changing the story to make it align with our expectations.

I used to point out that Adam and Eve were not expelled until after they denied responsibility for their actions – which means that they must have been expelled as a punishment for a failure in owning up to their mistakes. In that reading of the text, the core lesson of Eden is that G-d wants people to act on free will, and understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Isn’t that both logical and textual?

Well… not exactly. A reader of mine pointed out that this, too, is a distortion of the text to match my own preconceived notions. Since I am a stickler for understanding the text on its own merits, I have to admit he had a point. Here is the verse that provides the actual causal relationship for the expulsion from Eden.

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become like one of Us, knowing good and evil: and now, what if he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eating, live for ever: therefore the Lord G-d sent him out of the garden of Eden,

There are three elements here:

1: Adam stretching out his hand.

2: Taking the fruit and eating it.

3: Gaining immortality.

I think the Torah is telling us that the combination of these three things explains why G-d chose to expel Adam and Eve from the Garden. Here is how:

Stretching out his hand: This phrase in the Hebrew, shalach yad, is not necessarily bad. This phrase is used to refer to theft later in the Torah, but it is also used to describe Noach saving the dove, Avraham reaching for the slaughtering knife, and Moses reaching for the snake to turn it back into a stick. Reaching out one’s hand is decisive, and sometimes transformative. It is the physical expression of free will. When we reach out our hand, we are capable of changing the future. Which means that one element of the expulsion from Eden is realizing that Adam is now capable of decisive decision making with his own free will.

Taking the fruit and eating it: The act of taking can be theft, or at least appropriation. But it also reflects the ability to act on short term desires. Eating is, of course, an ever-present reminder to all of us that what is in our long-term interest (eating less) is rarely the way we act in the moment, with temptation within reach. So, G-d does not want Adam close to that kind of temptation, in the same way that we do not overfeed pets whose lives would be worse if they become morbidly obese. Adam seeks his self-interest.

Immortality: I think immortality is the ultimate temptation. Immortality without self-awareness is not a big deal (which is why Adam and Eve were originally allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, but not the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). But once Adam and Eve gained an understanding of the dualities of the world (good and evil), to such an involved extent that G-d could compare it in some way to G-d’s own divine grasp, then immortality leads us to squandering our potential.

The knowledge that we will all die is one of the greatest motivators in the world: we are under pressure to achieve all that we can while we still live. And while immortality sounds like a great thing, upon a little reflection, we know that none of us would grow if we thought that there were no penalties for indefinite procrastination. We require mortality in order to even have the desire to reach our potential.

At the expulsion, Adam was, in a sense, a child. He was capable of definitive action (stretching out his hand), he was capable of seeking to satisfy his desires (eating the fruit), and he was surely capable of giving into temptation (immortality). But he was not capable of perspective, since Adam – and Eve – had not had enough life experience.

Adam had demonstrated that he could be decisive, that he could act, and that he could seek his self-interest. But G-d also knew (as we surely do as well), that Adam, faced with the tempting fruit of immortality, was not mature enough to make the right decision. Which means that the expulsion from Eden was actually meant to save mankind from ourselves!

So in this reading of the text, G-d expelled Adam and Eve not because they disobeyed, or even necessarily because they shirked responsibility for having done so. The text seems to be telling us that Adam and Eve were expelled for their own good. If so, the expulsion was not even a punishment! It was, in fact, much more like forcing our children to brush their teeth and eat vegetables.

Once we showed the ability to make our own decisions, argue with each other and with G-d, and even refuse to take responsibility for our decisions, mankind had to leave Eden in order to not have those attributes short-circuit the rest of our lives. G-d expelled mankind from Eden to save us from ourselves.

[an @iwe and @susanquinn work]

P.S. Why does G-d leave Eden there? Why not just make it disappear? Is it that G-d never undoes something He has created – G-d even refrains from destroying things that man creates (Egyptian buildings and the Tower of Babel, for example, are not targeted)? Or is it to keep Eden as a more-tangible concept for mankind to refer to, a starting point for our journey?

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  1. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    iWe: I used to point out that Adam and Eve were not expelled until after they denied responsibility for their actions – which means that they must have been expelled as a punishment for a failure in owning up to their mistakes.

    Only if you can somehow prove that they weren’t going to be expelled anyway, and this was just a test to see how far they’d take it.

    • #1
  2. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    kedavis (View Comment):

    iWe: I used to point out that Adam and Eve were not expelled until after they denied responsibility for their actions – which means that they must have been expelled as a punishment for a failure in owning up to their mistakes.

    Only if you can somehow prove that they weren’t going to be expelled anyway, and this was just a test to see how far they’d take it.

    G-d’s stated decision to expel them only happened with the verse I quote. And the reasons are given in that verse – they do not include disobedience or shirking responsibility.

    • #2
  3. Stina Inactive
    Stina
    @CM

    No dealing with the initial command to not eat the fruit and the consequences there-of?

    • #3
  4. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Stina (View Comment):

    No dealing with the initial command to not eat the fruit and the consequences there-of?

    That certainly is a trigger for what follows. But not – in the text – the proximate cause. 

    After all, G-d told them the consequence: “if you eat, on that day you will die.” The net result is that when they ate, their old selves perished, and the new were born – “new” meaning an entirely new understanding of the world, incompatible with their old selves.

    So they ate, they were permanently changed as a result. The consequence was delivered.

    The expulsion came later, and for its own reasons.

    • #4
  5. Freeven Member
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Adam and Eve were cancelled when they noticed that men and women are different.

    • #5
  6. Stina Inactive
    Stina
    @CM

    iWe (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    No dealing with the initial command to not eat the fruit and the consequences there-of?

    That certainly is a trigger for what follows. But not – in the text – the proximate cause.

    After all, G-d told them the consequence: “if you eat, on that day you will die.” The net result is that when they ate, their old selves perished, and the new were born – “new” meaning an entirely new understanding of the world, incompatible with their old selves.

    So they ate, they were permanently changed as a result. The consequence was delivered.

    The expulsion came later, and for its own reasons.

    Expulsion kept them from the tree of life… therefore proximate cause is disobeying God and eating the fruit. The reasons for God having these consequences is a different conversation.

    • #6
  7. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    No.  This thesis is neither logical nor textual.

    First of all, textually, Adam and Eve did not deny their responsibility.  They admitted what they had done.  Further, God didn’t command Adam not to lie.  He commanded Adam not to eat the fruit.

    Second of all, logically, even if the OP wasn’t wrong textually, how would your hypothetical have played out?  Adam and Eve would have admitted what they did and accepted responsibility — which they did, but again, I’m accepting the OP’s textual error for purposes of discussion — and God would have said, well, what exactly?  That everything was fine?

    I mostly agree with one part of this post:

    iWe: everyone is guilty, to some extent, of changing the story to make it align with our expectations.

    The “everyone” part may not be correct.  Some are guilty of this.  The OP is a demonstration of this.

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I know better than to reply to Jerry, but this was too rich to ignore:

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    First of all, textually, Adam and Eve did not deny their responsibility.

    They did not deny the act. They each claimed that they were not responsible, that someone else made them do it!

    • #8
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