Nostalgia for Paradise Lost

“The Eden story is certainly not a morality tale; like any paradise myth, it is an imaginary account of the infancy of the human race. In Eden, Adam and Eve are still in the womb; they have to grow up, and the snake is there to guide them through the perplexing rite of passage to maturity. To know pain and to be conscious of desire and mortality are inescapable components of human experience, but they are also symptoms of that sense of estrangement from the fullness of being that inspires the nostalgia for paradise lost. We can see Adam, Eve, and the serpent as representing different facets of our humanity. In the snake is the rebelliousness and incessant compulsion to question everything that is crucial to human progress; in Eve we see our hunger for knowledge, our desire to experiment, and our longing for a life free of inhibition. Adam, a rather passive figure, displays our reluctance take responsibility for our own actions. The story shows that good and evil are inextricably intertwined in human life. Our prodigious knowledge can at one and the same time be a source of benefit and the cause of immense harm. The rabbis of the Talmudic age understood this perfectly. They did not see the “fall” of Adam as a catastrophe, because the “evil inclination” (yeytzer ha’ra) was an essential part of human life, and the aggression, competitive edge, and ambition that it generates are bound up with some of our greatest achievements.”

Karen Armstong – The Case for God


3 thoughts on “Nostalgia for Paradise Lost

  1. It seems to me the tale of Eden–though certainly a myth–ought to be paired with Cain and Abel (as well as Babel), and if you make that move, it is far more difficult to see the fall story as simply a tale of “the evil inclination [which are] an essential part of human life.”

    It feels like the story of something fundementally breaking, the ramifications of which are revealed in the story of one son murdered by the other.

    Be well – Jeff

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