A tweet about a book review by Glamour magazine of Bruce Feiler’s, “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve and Us” was making its way around social media not long ago. He believes we have a lot to learn from Adam and Eve’s marriage to help us navigate our modern lives with all its adversities, etc. Their story could be anyone’s story, Feiler says. I’m a big believer in the Bible being a guide for us mortals. I have not read his book, but I have read Genesis…what does the first couple’s story tell us about love and marriage?
Although they play a prominent role in the beginning of Genesis, there is not much exposition about their lives- just the facts. If you wish to find out about their relationship, you have to read between the lines. Adam and Eve are only mentioned in three separate instances: the Creation, the Fall, and the births (and death of one) of their children. We can imagine them to have been a typical couple…getting to know one another at the beginning, wanting to be together, and finally- as we would say- taking their relationship to the next level. It is there where all their troubles began. God’s prohibition was for Adam to refrain from partaking of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. One has to assume that once his “helpmeet” and his companion, Eve, joined him that he relayed this message to her as well. Or did he? We know that men aren’t known for being candid with the ones they love about important things. Could this have been something Adam “forgot” to talk about with Eve? Were they too “busy” doing other things? It could explain why he willingly broke the command to not eat the fruit after Eve let him know that she had done so. On the other hand, he may have been an upstanding guy who did tell her everything she had to know because he loved her, and she was his one and only- his life. Did his heart fall and did he cry in anguish when Eve confessed her sin to him? Did he follow suit to be with his love out of loyalty? One doesn’t know for sure, but together they went with step slow on their solitary way out of Eden.
Why was Eve tempted with the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and not the Tree of Life? What kind of tree was the Tree of Life? It’s all speculation. Some have argued, as Freud might have said, that sometimes a serpent isn’t a serpent, that this, in fact, was an allusion to the “sexual awakening” between Adam and Eve. It makes a certain amount of sense- the use of the snake imagery, the resulting sense of shame, the awareness of being naked, and the idea of transgression all fit into the idea that sexuality caused the problem. If true, why would it have been considered forbidden knowledge? One would think that the sex act would be natural- unless this was all referring to everything that comes after the act that is important and bearing responsibility.
Was Adam a typical guy or an upstanding guy? John Milton (1608-74) is considered the best poet in the English language due largely because his epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” (1667) is considered the best poem ever written in English. What did he have to say, 3½ centuries ago, of the relationship between our original parents? Some hate “Paradise Lost” because they say it made Lucifer look like a “rock star”, as we would say, by giving him the best monologues in the poem. One could say that…but Milton did something much more extraordinary. He took the sparse but seminal story of the Fall and read between the lines like no one had done before or since. He took the quintessential biblical story- a story which every living soul in Europe knew backwards and forwards ( If they had not read it themselves, they most certainly had heard about it from either their parents or at school. If not, then in their church, which probably had a painting of the serpent, the tree, and the unlucky pair in it, somewhere nearby.) and turned it into the “soap opera” of the age, a melodrama, a mystery, even…What will Adam do? Will he stay with her? Will he leave her? Will he follow suit and fall with her? It’s quite suspenseful considering everyone knew the ending of the story. No one had to skip to the last page to figure out what happened. Everyone knew the answer even before finishing the first line of the poem, “Of Man’s first disobedience…”
As far as Milton is concerned, Eve made a tragic mistake for whatever reason, a terrible choice. Adam was shocked and mortified by what she had done, not because she had sinned- though, he regretted that deeply- but because of the consequences of her action. God had said that on the day that he partook of the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. Unlike Peter Pan, he did not think of it as “an awfully big adventure”, just as an awful one. Not knowing what death was exactly was all the more horrific for him. All he knew was that he would be without his wife, his love, and his better half. So either out of love, loyalty, or fear- maybe all three- he decided to “die” with her, and partook of the offending apple, too. Then they faced God together and were exiled from Eden together. From then on it was them against the world. God let them know that outside the garden life would be harsh. They would have to toil the fields to gain sustenance from them. Animals would no longer be friendly. It does not mention whether he hunted…maybe that was something started after the Flood? Any animal that he would exploit would have to be tamed for them to live off of what they provided- milk and eggs. Creating a family would involve pain and effort. The couple was able to use their bond of love and loyalty to overcome their new adversity. They adapted to their new living conditions and continued with their lives. The drama and trauma of this episode in their life stood them in good stead for the next episode that must have been even more challenging to their marriage in ways that this first one was not. One can only assume that they must have been very happy and excited about the arrival of their firstborn, Cain, and then of their second born, Abel. What followed must have been a terrible one-two punch for them. Their eldest killing their youngest in a fit of rage and jealousy. Both were gone. One slain, the other exiled for the slaying. Many times when a child dies or is killed, the marriage falls apart. Either one parent blames the other for what happened, or one or the other or both lose hope and the will to continue together. The pain and heartache of their family being torn asunder must have been unbearable for Adam and Eve. We are not told of what they thought or felt, but endure they did. They must have comforted each other, helped each other overcome sadness, madness, anger, guilt, and grief to recover and find enough faith and hope in each other and in the promise of life to start their family anew. Eve gave birth to a third son, Seth. Did they live happily ever after? No one knows. All we know is that they must have remained together, and can only assume that they did so for the rest of their days. The marriage of the first couple had enough love and strength to adjust and survive in very adverse situations. It withstood the test of time and of circumstances. Let us now look at a similarly tested marriage that was slightly different in adversity and outcome- that between Abram, later Abraham, and Sarai, later Sarah.
If there ever were a tumultuous and tested marriage, Abram and Sarai’s would have been it. This is one similar to our first couple’s in that it was severely tested over and over again, and the marriage weathered storm after storm, but one with a very different ending. We are not precisely sure how old they were when they married, but he was 10 years older than her. One can only assume that they loved one another. Things got complicated for them from the start. Sarai was barren. God, we are told, made several visits to Abram promising him that he would be the father of a great nation. So we can only imagine what his thoughts were concerning God’s promise and his wife’s barrenness. Still, he stayed with his loved one. They re-located in what must have been not just a long journey, but a harrowing one- from Ur to Canaan (Iraq to Israel, in today’s geography). Sarai, in love with her husband, and loyal, dutifully followed. Once settled they prospered, yet it wasn’t long before they were on the move again due to drought and famine. Egypt was their next destination. His love for her and her for him must have been great indeed, for what they did next for each other would test that bond in an extreme way. One guesses that Sarai was about 65 at the time but still a striking beauty and desirable. Because of the dangers travelers faced in that age and place, Abram asked his wife to pose as his sister, under the logic that whomever may have wanted to take her because of her beauty would be less likely to kill him to get to her if he were her brother rather than her husband (Sadly, this type of taking of women persists to this day in the Arab world). We are told that indeed, the Pharoah took Sarai into his household. She and Abram were expelled from Egypt after some time because the Pharoah discovered their rouse and blamed it on calamities that were befalling him and Egypt. Again Abram and Sarai were on the dangerous trek elsewhere. There are sacrifices and then there are sacrifices. Their love and dedication for one another, and desire to protect each other, led them to perform such acts of devotion. Still. Sarai must have felt some insecurity due to her inability to give Abram a child and heir. Apparently she felt if “they” had a child by means of a surrogate, then he wouldn’t feel slighted by the lack of an heir and think of leaving her. She hatched a plan to have the maid she brought with her out of Egypt, Hagar, to bear a child with Abram. From the start this probably hastily thought out plan went awry. Hagar did indeed have a son, Ishmael. However, Sarai could not contain her jealousy and envy. She eventually demanded that Hagar and child be expelled. After these events, Sarai had another marriage with another local king, Abimelech. Their old rouse still worked- for a while. Again their Egyptian experience occurred. The King found out the rouse and expelled them both. Again, their love for one another led them to extremes that normal marriages fail to withstand, but they survived despite all the adversity.
We are told that again God spoke with Abram about being a father of a great nation and promised him the birth of a son with Sarai. From this point, Abram became Abraham, and Sarai, Sarah. Isaac was born when she was 90 and he, 100. In effect, they had been given a new lease on life, with new lives, new identities, and a new family. From the accounts, one can only assume that Isaac brought joy and happiness to his parents. He must have been the apple of his mother’s eye and the pride of his father’s heart. A much wanted and loved child. When Isaac was grown, and after the incident on the hill, all their lives changed forever. It may have all started like this:
(Scene: Sarah’s kitchen.)
Sarah: Yes, dear?
Abraham: The boy and I are going, ah, hiking tomorrow.
Sarah: Oh, yes? Where?
Abraham: Up the hill.
Sarah: That’s nice dear. Don’t forget his robe…it may be chilly up there.
Abraham: Sure dear. Umm…
Abraham: I’m going to make a sacrifice to God.
Sarah: Oh? Which of the animals are you taking?
Sarah: Abe? What’s going on?
Abraham: Well, dear…(gulp) I’m not taking any of the livestock.
Sarah: So what will you sacrifice?
( Abraham gives a darting glance to Isaac.)
Sarah: Are you ( expletives deleted ) kidding me?!
( Sarah shouts, throws objects at Abraham, as she moves about the kitchen. Abraham tries his best to shield himself from the objects. She then commences to pummel him with closed fists.)
( End of scene.)
As with the case of Adam and Eve, the loss of a child brought strain to the bonds of matrimony. As I mentioned above, when a child is lost, it often leads to the break-up of the marriage- especially if one of the parents blames the other for the loss. Isaac was not dead, but she thought he would be, and because of this, lost all respect and love for Abraham, even if he did not go on with the intended plan. We know that God’s plan was to make it a point that He was not a weird weather or nature god and did not want human sacrifices to be made in his name, but Sarah obviously didn’t appreciate this nuanced point of view. We are not told what happened in the homecoming but can assume Abraham and Isaac arrived at an empty home. Sarah was not to live with Abraham again. At 107 years old, she died in Hebron. Did she ever learn that indeed her son Isaac was still alive? This is also unknown. Never-the-less, she never forgave him for this. Abraham lived in Beersheba after the “sacrifice”. Despite their long history, their long struggle to find their place in the world, their sacrificing to be together, and protecting each other, the apperceived death of her beloved son was the last straw for Sarah.
Two different but similar stories, both testing the limits of love and loyalty, but ending in different ways. As I see it, the Bible is not a History book, nor a Science text. It is, however, a- if you will- guide on how to live one’s life, a variety on “How To Get Along With Your Neighbors For Dummies,” a how-to guide on how to relate to God and your fellow man ( Available in a handy two-in-one volume for your convenience!). Non-believers say the Bible is fiction (if they’re nice about it) or make-believe, silly fairy tales and B.S. (if they’re not). For the, it must have been written down after a bunch of camel herders had a campfire and sat around telling stories to amuse themselves and pass the night. However, we believers know it as a sophisticated commentary on relationships ( So much so that we can even use it today in the ultra-modern world to help guide us) and how God and man relate, and man with each other do so- or as Milton would say (and did say), a book on how to explain God’s ways to man.