“The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve” by Stephen Greenblatt— The First Parents

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve”, W.W. Norton, 2017.

The First Parents

Amos Lassen

The story of the creation and Adam and Eve is a puzzling narrative in the bible and in fact, it is so puzzling that it is told twice in two different versions. Stephen Greenblatt looks at the story as the tale of the first parents and we immediately see that although the original tale consists of only a few verses it has become a way that we look at

our fears and desires, as both a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness”. Greenblatt shares the theological, artistic, and cultural investment over centuries that made these fictional figures so profoundly resonant in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds and, finally, so very “real” to many even in the present. Greenblatt explores the intensely personal engagement of others such as Augustine, Dürer, and Milton as they tackle what he calls collective creation. We read of the diversity of the story’s offspring through allegory, misogyny, morality and some of the great works of art and literature.

We see that the story of our origins is “a model for what the humanities still have to offer: not the scientific nature of things, but rather a deep encounter with problems that have gripped our species for as long as we can recall and that continue to fascinate and trouble us today”.

Replete with 16 pages of color illustrations, this is a comprehensive picture of how a story that became foundational for European civilization developed. We go back to its origins in western Asia and read of its much-contested place in the post-Darwinian world. Reading about Adam and Eve engages our imaginations as well as our ideas about history and the coming together of faith, poetics, and philosophy. The story is presented to us in a new, fresh, and humane way and from it we can better understand why the myths of the past still matter even though we know that they are myths. We need just to look at the dichotomies of “bare then clothed, innocent then ashamed, blessed then cursed, sheltered then exiled” to understand the importance of the story. The first parents have taken important places in art, literature and philosophy as well as in the minds of those that follow biblical thought and theology. I find it very interesting that we have two new books on Adam and Eve in less than a year and each has something different to say about their roles in history.

 

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