|  ERICH UNGER   Home | Essays | About Us | Contact Us|
THE STORY OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN
1. I shall begin by saying that the person Adam is described in such a way that there is no doubt that his existence is divided into two phases, one before and one after he violates G-d's command. In the first phase, his existence is not that of an ordinary individual, but that of the whole of mankind in a single person. He is at the same time individual and universal. This state of Adam, therefore, conveys the idea that a living species, before it reaches the biological stage in which it preserves its existence, namely one when it can give rise to an infinitely prolongable series of transient individuals, must itself necessarily have the form of an individual, although structurally different from those who will subsequently descend from him. He is a universal existing as a particular being. In the beginning there is not even a spatial, physical differentiation into separate sexes, an essential precondition for the ensuing transformation of the species-like unit into individuals. The earthly Adam and, like him, all living forms, are neither Platonic ideas in some extra-terrestrial location, nor are they merely terrestrial copies or shadows of immaterial archetypes. They stand between these two conceptions and they are missing in Plato's exposition. Adam and all living forms are empirical, materialised universals in their first appearance on earth. Only after the transgression of the Divine command does Adam become an individual in the ordinary sense.
2. No great argument is needed to see that this view of the nature of Adam entails and is confirmed by the attribute of immortality. Clearly, the life span of the species, unlike that of the individual, is not in itself empirically limited. Adam is as immortal as mankind is as a whole. So, at least potentially, is every species. Some forms of life may be destroyed or perish or become extinct on account of their maladjustment to the environment, but there is no inevitability and no general principle involved. Some species were unable to last indefinitely. From this characteristic of living nature, there clearly follows:
3. An intimate and necessary connection between the phenomena of death and individual existence. The existence of an individual is only possible as a limited, finite one. Individual life, as distinct from that of the genus, is attained at the price of death. The individual is 'born' and must, therefore, 'die'. The species, on the other hand, is not born but created, even if we have to make room for the principle of evolution that depicts one species as descending from another and thereby sees them as sub-species, even if we have to reserve the concept of Creation for one structural genus of life that branches out into the various sub-species of living forms. A living structure can be immortal, an individual cannot. In the unique form that Adam's existence has as a created being, the place of the event of a 'birth' is taken by the transformation of his nature that occurs through the violation of G-d's command. With this, he passes from his nature as a particular universal to his nature as a human individual. The transformation might even be traced a stage further back, to the transformation of the undivided Adam into two sexes. From this, logically and biologically, there follows:
4. The relation between the phenomena of death and sex. The word 'sex' must here be understood in its wider sense, designating not only actual use and function but the biological capacity of every human being, whether used or not. The organisation of sex is ambivalent: it carries the preservation of life for the species and it carries, as the cause of individual existence, the inseparable connection of life and death for the individual. The biological institution of sex and the linkage of sex to death is not an aspect of the Divine order, which is unreservedly recognised or affirmed. The subterranean nexus is a vast theme in what is now termed 'depth psychology' (Tiefenpsychologie). Its analyses provide us with many reasons for facts that are strangely anticipated in the attitude to sex of the Hebrew myth. The unhesitating approval of this mighty life force and a rejection of sex that leads to a position of unqualified asceticism here stand in a remarkable contrast to the general valuation of sex in other mythologies. In the Hebrew text, we find a paradoxical attitude in G-d Himself, as we shall se presently. For the moment, I wish to touch on another subject, for which this is the proper context:
5. The origin of shame. So specialised a topic may well be considered far less important than the genesis of the fundamental phenomena of life and nature presented in our super-concentrated story. The way in which it is treated and the answer given seem to support the Hebrew interpretation of sex just mentioned. Tracing the root of shame to the root of sex underlines the peculiarity of the Hebrew position, according to which, it should be noted, the feeling of shame does not relate to an abuse of the sexual function of man, but to a refusal to accept, unquestioningly, the phenomenon of sex as such. Nor is shame here repentance for having disobeyed G-d's command. It is the expression of a feeling that there is, in this biological institution, however 'natural' it may be in other respects, an undertone of discord with the ultimate cosmic order. If not misused, its naturalness should exclude shame; man does not feel shame in satisfying his natural needs. The feeling of shame here betrays remorse, not for having 'sinned' against the 'normal' order of things, but for having forfeited a good in the highest sphere of human desires and Divine possibilities, the good of deathless existence. But, in the epoch of the world presented in this narrative, this 'good' is bound up with the strange sub-individuality of this first man, who enjoys only a dim twilight of happiness. And since the origin of full individuality is bound up with this good, everything once again becomes ambiguous, the ambiguity being, ultimately, caused by the way in which G-d Himself deals with man's transgression. Why G-d gave an order, the violation of which He had foreseen, is a well known problem. Any answer must at the same time be a solution to the wider, general issue, also included in the themes of the story of the Garden of Eden, namely:
6. The necessary paradox inherent in the nature of G-d as Infinite Being. Briefly, the paradox is this: In one sense, everything emanating from G-d is divine and good, and this applies to the world and all that it contains as created by G-d. That includes the future development of the Creation that G-d had foreseen and, in some way, willed and approved; in particular, it includes the future development of man and mankind as it will actually take place. In this sense, the origin of evil can be traced back to G-d, Who says, in the words of the prophet "I make peace and I create evil" (Is. XLV, v.7). In this sense, evil has a function in the development of the universe and is, by implication, sub specie aeternitas as we say, no evil at all or, which comes to the same thing, it is included in the will of G-d. Evil is necessary in bringing about good. In another sense, however, not every phase of the development, but only a special course of events, only a specifically defined behaviour of man is approved by G-d. Evil, while it may be necessary, is opposed to the will of G-d. The paradox is that evil does and does not correspond to the will of G-d. In the story, the position almost exclusively stressed is that evil is an open contravention of the will of G-d. This raises the problem, how, then, can it happen at all? The answer given in the story and, it would seem, by the Penateuch in general is that it can take place because G-d has affixed a compensation to it. That explains that G-d can approve two opposite courses at once, the good one and the compensated evil one. Incidentally, this answer may take the mind away from mythology, towards a philosophical conclusion, attributing to G-d the logical region 'beyond good and evil'.