Man's narrative starts in the scriptures with Adam and Eve. Exactly how to take this isn't clear. It is foundational in so many ways. Clearly it is at a minimum far more than a historical account. This causes many to take it as purely alegorical. I do not wish to discuss here the historicity issue nor issues of reconciling the two figures with modern knowledge about history and science. I want to instead remain in a discussion of the narrative itself. What follows are a few things I've written over the years on Adam and Eve. None of them purport to be all I can say on the topic. Far from it. But perhaps they offer some interest to those considering the story as the foundation of western religion in general. I think that the Mormon perspective on Adam and Eve offers many interesting perspectives on this archetype of our history.
There is no particular order to the following. Some are just blog-like musings. Others are a little more thought ought and considered.Most were written quite a few years ago. I probably will go through these and edit them and perhaps even reconsider them as time goes by.
Throughout the history man's literature, there have been two competing and contradictory notions of the world. These notions have their nature from how both time and existence are viewed. One view is that underneath all of our experiences lays some type of permanence. This permanence is the ultimate reality. It is the order and stability of the universe. It is the realm of being. The other view sees the ultimate reality of the world in terms of pure change. What is so unique about our experience of the world is that both these views are intrinsic to how we, as individuals, relate to the world around us. As they are intrinsic to our relating, they are intrinsic to both how we exist and how we deal with existence itself.
The world of permanence, of being, sees space and substance as logically prior to function or behavior. Everything is predictable. In a sense there is no "coming into being." Instead what exist is in and of itself. There is progression, no change, no change of being itself. This is the realm of laws, forms, and intelligence. It is where the rhetoric of investigative discourse seeks for ultimate being, for Oneness, for permanence. Here people are viewed as essentially determined in their characteristics and in their choices.
Opposing the world of Being is the world of change, of becoming. It focuses on process and function rather than matter and space. Here free will and indeterminism rule. In opposition to the notion of order is here the notion of chaos. In opposition to what must of necessity happen is contingency, or that which may or may not happen.
Philosophers have argued that our conception and recognition of time is based upon the conflict between these two realms. Some philosophers, cast under the label of existentialists, have said that there is a type of angst in all of us. This angst is our recognition of both being and becoming and their intrinsic conflict. Such angst is our recognition of existence itself. To the degree we experience the crisis between being and becoming we are facing what is often called an existential crisis. The crisis is, by it's very nature, a type of paradox.
I bring the notion of time and existential crisis up, not to raise a philosophical issue, but to raise a literary one. The notion of existential crisis is a powerful theme in quite a bit of literature. While we expect to see it in such existentialist writers as Sarte or Camus, we also see it in such classics as Hamlet or King Lear. What I would like to focus in on this week is not and existential reading of Shakespeare though, but rather one of Genesis.
It should be no surprise to that the Mormon concept of an opposition in all things comes from a commentary on Genesis. Lehi, in his dying testament, shows how the unification of opposites - of contrasts - is necessary for existence itself. It was necessary "to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man" that God have a paradox, "even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter." (2 Nephi 2:15)
The story of Adam and Eve's sojourn in the garden of Eden starts out with the command of God that "of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it." (Moses 3:16-17) God warned them that if they did eat of it they would "surely die." (Moses 3:17)
Right here at the beginning we have the presentation of being and becoming. The garden, paradise, represents being. It is the world of pure order, and thus also a world in which becoming is not present. Adam could not change, he could not die. He was in the midst of eternity, immortal and innocent. As Lehi put it, Adam "would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever and ever, and had no end. . . wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sins." (2 Nephi 2:22-23)
The fruit of knowledge was the fruit of becoming. Partaking of it meant differentiation - the distinction between good and evil would exist for Adam. Adam would die, thus being part of a break of the cycle of being. But in dying he would enable humanity to be. (see 2 Nephi 2:25) Put an other way, if Adam fell from the realm of being to becoming, then we could *become* what we are. Without the nature of becoming, we never would be, for there could be no change.
The crisis in Genesis was how to unify being and becoming. If Adam fell, then he dies, becoming lost forever. Thus death becomes the victory of chaos over order, of becoming over being. Death structurally represents becoming, while life represents being. Adam, as we all know, choose to fall, becoming our creator, the creator of our becoming rather than our being.
The fall brought us into our present state, where we now perceive our existential crisis. We perceive our crisis as an awareness of our existing in opposition to our existence. We know the idea of unity and of order, but exist in a world where we have divided even as we have multiplied. (Moses 5:2-3)
The solution to the problem of Genesis is found throughout the scriptures in the concept of a Messiah. "God himself shall come down among the children of men and shall redeem his people." (Mosiah 15:1) God will take upon him flesh - the nature of becoming. But he will subject the flesh [becoming] to the Father [being]. Thus God will unite being and becoming to deal with our crisis.
Near the beginning of Hamlet, an untenable conflict is created setting the basic existential tension of the play. The conflict starts with Hamlet's uncle poisoning Hamlet's father in the ear. The ghost of Hamlet's father then speaks to Hamlet from below, persuading him to revenge. The words of Hamlet's father parallel the earlier own poisoning. Now, however, the poison are the words said to Hamlet, also entering in by the ear. If Hamlet does nothing, then his father's ghost can not rest. If he kills his uncle, then he himself is destroyed. There is no escape from the bind.
In the story of the Garden, we have a similar situation. There are two trees set in opposition to each other. To eat one is to be excluded from the other. If they eat from the tree of knowledge they can not eat from the tree of life. To partake from the tree of life, they can not eat of the tree of knowledge. Thus there are two contrary choices. They can have life and ignorance or death and knowledge. Like the situation facing Hamlet, there is no escape from the basic existential dilemma. The situation in the garden is like the situation in Castle Elsnor: a system out of kilter.
For Hamlet, the path followed is started when his Father as the devil poisons him. In the garden the story starts proceeding when Satan both figuratively (his words) and literally (the fruit) poisons Eve. Hamlet's conflict causes him to turn the castle to turmoil. Eve, like Hamlet, likewise poisons those around her. In the garden Eve's choice creates a new dilemma for Adam. Rather than choosing between knowledge and life, he now has to choose between Eve and death or solitude and immortality.
It is here that the solution to the dilemma of the garden is presented. Originally Adam and Eve were one flesh, the heavenly Adam. Now they are separated, an anti-atonement, or the initial fall. Bringing romantic overtones to the story, Adam chooses Eve. This is the initial atonement. Becoming again one, Adam and Eve are able to overcome the expulsion from the garden. Eve creates the expulsion, but in creating the expulsion she changes the choices. While Adam is still cut off from the tree of life by the flaming sword, the choice he made was not between knowledge and life. Thus, according to the structure of the story, he is now able to choose both life and knowledge.
With Hamlet we have nothing of this. His turmoil plagues the romance of the story eventually leading to chaos and disorder through the entire kingdom. The only solution for Shakespeare is the death of all those marked to die. No Atonement is possible.
Clark Goble firstname.lastname@example.org
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