Garden of Eden

Pages:
 §  1 
 §  2 
 §  3 
 §  4 
 §  5 
 §  6 
 §  7 
 §  8 
 §  9 
 §  10 
 §  11 
THE STORY OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Page 9

The conceivability of a solution to a world problem that always remains a problem, i.e. the contents and implications of which can never be brought to a definite, completed state can, of course, increase indefinitely. The conceivability of an answer to a stated problem of this kind has, therefore, no end; but it has a beginning once the principal, formal ideas of the problem have been discovered, ideas that will not be lost again and will be material in the subsequent history of thought.

Let us glance back at the Babylonian tablet: '..When the sky and the earth were as yet unnamed, Apsu, the oldest of beings, the progenitor, Mummu and Tiamat who bare each and all of them mingled their waters in a single mass, the gods came into being with themů'
We see that this kind of content has no prospect of becoming a perpetual point of departure for ever new attempts to think rationally about the problem of the origin of things. In this respect, the contrast with the opening verse of Genesis is striking. The problem of the origin of things is here brought to a phase that is a turning point in the development of the human mind, a point from which a large section of mankind has derived its rationalisable ideas about G-d, the world, nothing and creation (1). This stage of the problem assumes the form of an answer, a statement ("In the beginning G-d..") and such a statement represents a 'truth', not because it cannot be changed, but just because it can be changed and contains within itself the content and conceptual circle within which all subsequent change will have to take place.
(1)The statement that all this seems natural because Christianity, having conquered the occident, transmitted the account in Genesis to the world, does not hold good. As eminent historians f religion such as Harnack and Marcian, have shown, it was the other way round. Extant documents show that the acceptance of Christianity was largely due to the appeal of the 'scientific myth' of the Hebrews for Gentile intellectuals. In other words, it was the hitherto unknown rational approach to ultimate questions in Genesis that helped to pave the way for Christianity and overcame the opposition to Christian dogma by the philosophically educated sections of the peoples of antiquity. It was not Christianity that brought about the triumph of the Hebrew concepts of g-d and world - they were not those of Christianity -. It was the concepts in Genesis that superseded the 'Timaios'. The concepts were used as spearheads of the Christian attack upon and victory over pagan mythologies concerning the origin of things.

The method I have applied to the story of the Garden of Eden is not that of comment but of unfolding its implications. Commentary, as I have said, signifies ideas that have come into the commentator's mind; they are occasioned by the story but are external to it. The implications are contained in the story. The modern mind, used to thinking along evolutionary lines, may forget that there is another aspect to things originating, one in which the principle that rules is that nothing can evolve that was not there, in whatever germinal form, from the beginning. Beyond that there can only be creation. The two aspects may have to be combined in some way, but it is clear that, while modern thought may be completely absorbed by the first aspect, by the idea that man must be derived from something non-human, the myth is exclusively concerned with the second aspect, with the idea that the uniquely human must be traced back to its own earliest appearance, to the human antecedents in the era of universal beginning. The implications of the myth that I have sought to bring out by attempting to translate it into the language of theory belong, of course, to the second aspect of human nature in which man is only conceived either in contrast to non-human nature or in relation to G-d. And the 'conceivability' of this perspective is what I have tried to emphasise by pointing to the character of the myth that yields the main features of the human world in a coherent and inexhaustible complex of facts and problems. That conceivability is what I understand to be the 'truth' of this aspect. It is by virtue of this that the myth is enabled to engage the essential problems of human nature, seen in their logical interconnection, and to anticipate and determine the domain of subsequent solutions to these problems, to which it has given a first answer. And it has done all that in the form of a simple story.

There remains the significant question: What makes such anticipating of developments and such a full delineation of problems possible? Keeping in mind the sense that we can and should speak of truth and conceivability in the story of the Garden of Eden, we need to return to the question of the significance of the translateability of the story into a rational whole and repeat: how can a simple report of events explain the strange anticipating of developments ? How can it represent and embody - not intentionally - the most elaborate chain of discursive thought? How do we explain a correspondence between modes of expression that are worlds apart and belong to different ages in the long line of mental epochs?

How can both accounts convey the same content, the one in the form of a 'tale', the other in the form of 'reasoning'? And how can we account for the 'highly charged' character of the short narrative, its almost inexhaustible capacity to give birth to all those representations, the perpetual and essential components, the perpetual and ever deepening problems of the human world? We can tell that these are genuine features and that they really are contained in the myth from the circumstance that all derive from it as logically interdependent elements.

The best angle of approach to these questions is obtained if we focus on the point that both the mythological and the conceptual versions communicate the same content. For instance, the line of action taken by G-d in dealing with Adam's transgression really does correspond to the long and complicated reflections on the necessary paradoxes of the Infinite Being wanting to create a being independent of Himself. Keeping in mind this and all the other correspondences between story and systematic reflection, let us now look for an explanation. It seems fairly clear that the myth did not intend to convey a theory. There is no conscious forming of concepts such as infinity or of contrasts such as 'life and spirit, universal and individual' in the myth. The Books of Moses are not a philosophical document. It is equally obvious that this specific kind of coincidence is an extremely rare, if not unique, feature in mythological literature. How can we account for it and, in particular, how account for the fact that the story of the Garden of Eden is so richly endowed with this feature?