A day in the life of Eve and Adam in a garden called Paradise

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

The Creation of Man

The creation of humanity occurs four times in the first five chapters of Genesis. The most famous creation scene in western art appears on Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, where God’s finger sparks restless Adam into life.

The position of Michelangelo’s Adam is elucidated by comparison with the 5th-century BCE sculpture of Dionysos from the Parthenon (apparently known to Michelangelo); but in the case of the Greek image, the figure is in serene stasis, while Adam seems ready to leap into activity.
The almost touch means that Adam will not be controlled by God.  Humanity’s future unfolds beneath God’s left arm, as Eve scrutinizes her future mate.  Some say that the fingers of God’s left hand settle upon the Second Adam, Jesus, who will redeem humanity from the First Adam’s folly. Adam is fully mature (midrash puts his age at 20), his beautiful face lacking life experience.  This painting reflects the first account (Genesis 1:26f.), where God creates by language: “Let us make adam in our image.”  The generic ambiguity of adam, meaning earthling or humanity, sets up the ongoing puzzle of Adam’s sexuality: a single bisexual human being, one man and one woman, all of humanity.  Eve is there, but she’s not there.

A more concretely depicted version of humanity’s creation is the work of God the sculptor (2:7), who shaped Adam from the dust (Hebrew masculine) of the earth (Hebrew feminine). The generic Adam (human from humus) emerges in German artist Meister Bertram’s colorful creation series.

Similar concepts are found in many of the neighboring cultures of the Ancient Near East, as in this Ptolemaic painting of Khnemu, the creator god, shaping the future pharaoh on his potter’s wheel. Standing behind Khnemu is Thoth, the Egyptian god of Time, who marks the duration of his life. Thus the universal concern of parents with the life and well-being of their children is given concrete form.

Khnum shapes Pharaoh's son on the potter's wheel
Khnum shapes Pharaoh's son on the potter's wheel

The Creation of Woman

The birth of tiny Eve from the side of Adam (Genesis 2:22) in the late 14th century Freiburg cathedral, looks like a vaginal birth, head first into the arms of the divine midwife.
In the same period, another German artist, Meister Bertram, clearly shows the rib, from which Eve was built, according the Latin translation of the phrase “vayiven et hatsela.”  But the word tsela, which occurs some 50 times in the Bible, consistently means “side”, a structural element.  Only in Genesis 2 has tsela been understood as “rib”.  However, the accompanying verb “and he built,” “vayiven” confirms that here too, the word tsela means “side.”  In which case, either we read the account as the caesarean birth of Eve or as God separating the feminine side of Adam and presenting her to him. If the latter, the original Adam was an androgynous being. As already noted, the description of the formation of Adam (Genesis 2: 7) is composed of both feminine and masculine elements.
Marc Chagall, coming out of the world of traditional Jewish learning, expressed his conception of humanity using two widely known midrashim on the creation of man and woman. According to one, they were created as an androgynous being and then separated into two, male and female.  According to the other, the story of Adam and Eve’s creation, temptation and expulsion is limited to one single day, at the end of which they are forgiven and time begins.

Grabow Altarpiece: Creation of Eve
Grabow Altarpiece: Creation of Eve

Meister Bertram

Creation of Eve
Creation of Eve

Between Chagall’s split androgynous figure, a third, headless torso emerges, perhaps representing the continuum of sexuality. A revolving cosmos, surrounding the figure, becomes a clock, marking humanity’s last three hours in the garden. Masculine solar red and feminine lunar silver segments are switched, emphasizing the ambiguity of human sexuality.
Four hundred years earlier, in what some consider the central element of the Sistine ceiling, a matronly Eve emerges from the sleeping Adam’s side. Her function will be Mother:

Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living

But her body is parallel to the cut off branch of the Tree of Life, marking her identity in classical Christian theology as the bringer of death to the world. Thus, Eve is like the earth that brings forth new life and takes back the dead

The Temptation

A new character enters the scene by way of a word play: They were both, the man and his wife, naked (arumim)… And the serpent was shrewder (arum) than all the other creatures…. Genesis 2:25; 3:1

What is the need for and function of this new character? Immediately on appearing, the serpent engages Eve in a critical conversation and convinces her to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What are his motivations? Why is she so inclined to trust him?
In both Jewish and Christian interpretative traditions, the serpent is Evil and Eve is either/both weak minded and a femme fatal.  Is the serpent God’s instrument for bringing about the surrender to temptation? In any event, he eventually becomes Satan, envious of the love of Adam and Eve and determined to possess Eve. Here is Satan, in the work of Australian painter, Arthur Boyd, spying greedily on the amorous couple.

Via Eve, he’ll get them into trouble. Boyd most likely drew on the midrash of Paradise Lost, based ultimately on Bereshit Rabba. But our research has brought us to the recognition that like all symbols, the snake is bivalent and can also be benevolent. For example, in a painting on an Egyptian sarcophagus, a two-legged snake, called “the lord of food”, feeds the god Geb a red fruit.

Angel spying on Adam and Eve
Angel spying on Adam and Eve

This scene might very well be the background necessary for an alternative understanding of the biblical story: the snake is a benevolent figure! His motivation is to bring the human couple to consciousness, which can only be achieved by their birth from Eden and into Time. This interpretation would explain Eve’s trust in the serpent.

Yet another alternate reading of the biblical story is found in William Blake’s painting, also an illustration of Paradise Lost.
Here, the serpent’s scheme has come to fruition in an erotic tête-a-tête. Adam, meanwhile, is too involved theologically to notice what’s going literally behind his back. Blake seems to be putting a different spin on the responsibility for falling into temptation: Eve is no innocent maid, but Adam is out to lunch.

Depictions of the Temptation are among the most prevalent biblical scenes in art.
Above, on the 14th century façade of the Cathedral of Orvieto, in high relief adolescent, and seemingly innocent Eve meets Adam’s willing hand with a fig. The luxuriant Tree in the center binds all the elements together: the serpent, wound both below and above the hands joined at the fruit; an octagonal pool (a baptismal font) out of which the four Edenic rivers flow. But next to her breast, Eve hides a luscious fig in reserve. On the other hand, on the left sober Adam points a warning index finger. Legs crossed, Eve is already sliding down hill. The serpent, meanwhile, with a conspiratorial grin, sticks out his forked tongue toward Eve. All the elements of the doctrinal Christian reading of the Temptation are here.

Rembrandt, as always, has a different reading.
Who’s to say, Adam and Eve are 20 and sexy? Is temptation only for the young? Is consciousness not a goal at any age? Adam and Eve are two middle aged people who have not had the best night. Flabby Eve offers scruffy Adam a cold breakfast, which he may even be pushing away, while (as in Orvieto) he raises a finger in warning. The serpent is monstrous, lurking above the bewildered couple. Rembrandt views the gravity of this event, as opposed to the almost pornographic tendency of his peers.

Perhaps the best known Eden painting is Michelangelo’s Temptation and Expulsion on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. A tantalizing three-part picture opens to the viewer. There are three couples in this painting: Adam and Eve engrossed in each other but distracted inhabit the left scene; Adam and Eve distraught leave the right-hand scene; in the center a strange couple lives entwined in the tree. What is going here?

We know from the story that Eve and Adam have a fruitful exchange with the serpent and we know that God kicks them out of the Garden for their disobedience.  The narrative is replete with theology.  We might ask what is the relationship of the three couples to each other and to God and to us?
On the left, voluptuous Eve and Adam are distracted from their lovemaking; they reach up into the tree, Adam holding onto a branch and aggressively reaching out; Eve awkwardly turning and reaching upward toward the serpent.
In the center, a busty serpent spirals around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; she offers Eve the forbidden fruit. She is joined to a sword-wielding red cherub, whose arm seems to grow out of the serpent’s coils; these two figures are one. Parallel pairs of arms emerge on the right and on the left, uniting the scenes.  A female serpent, the mate of the cherub:  where is this in Genesis?
And on the right, a now unlovely but still naked Adam and Eve are chased from the Garden. They’re still together, but it’s not the same. The cherub’s sword practically impales Adam, whose hands attempt to protect him, his face dismayed.  Eve is hunched over, clutching her hair, her face witch-like.
What is Michelangelo saying? In accordance with Christian doctrine, the transition from carnal pleasure to angry flight forecasts the plight of humanity and the hope for redemption from the flesh. But another symbolic reading is present.  Eating the fruit results in conscious sex which brings the baby, which brings awareness of the passage of time. “You will surely die” means you will understand that time means death.  Awareness of time, and life in paradise are mutually exclusive. Having tasted the fruit on the left they are instantly out of Paradise and into history, on the right.
The remaining puzzle is the bifurcated serpent spiraling around the Tree. The serpent and cherub are one; good and evil, life and death are flip sides of reality, they reflect the nature of the divine.

The Expulsion

Here are three remarkably different treatments of the Expulsion.
The most familiar is that of Massacio, which was known to Michelangelo from his youth in Florence. Some call this the first humanist rendition of the Expulsion, since the focus of the painting is on the emotions of Adam and Eve. While Adam covers his face in shame, his body is exposed: he is ashamed of his actions, not his body. Eve, on the contrary, covers her body, exposing the anguish on her upturned face. And the cherub hovers over them, not as a danger but as an insupportable burden.
In the Muslim painting, some of the main elements of Christian iconography are also present:  Adam and Eve (here given halos and half clad) are about to exit the gate of the garden, urged by a winged angel with a sword in his hand. But in addition, curious angels both behind and above observe their banishment. On the lower right, beyond the frame, three otherwise unknown figures, Islamic personifications of evil, lead the way: Iblis (Satan), the serpent and the peacock.

Garden of the Happy (Yah. Ms. Ar. 1115
Garden of the Happy (Yah. Ms. Ar. 1115
Expulsion of Adam and Eve
Expulsion of Adam and Eve

Masaccio (Tommaso Cassai)

Some Modern Versions

Pretty serious stuff! Mortality, guilt, anger, redemption. And traditionally, Eve gets the worst of it.  But in Yevgeny Abeshaus’ ironic rendition, Eve flowers, Adam is a neboch. The inscription above them reads: And Adam ate of the fruit Eve gave him, but he didn’t “get it”.
So it was a setup from the very beginning?

Genesis Rabba  8:1
And God said, Let us make man, etc. – R. Yohanan commenced [his discourse], You have enclosed me before and after, etc. (Ps. 139:5). Said R. Yohanan, If a man is worthy, he enjoys both worlds, for it says, You have enclosed me before [birth] and after [death].  But if not, he will have to render a full account, as it is said, And laid Your hand upon me.

R. Jeremiah b. Elazar said, When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, , He created him androgynous for it is said, Male and female created He them…

R. Samuel b. Nahman said, When the Lord created Adam He created him double-faced, then He split him and made him of two backs, one back on this side and one back on the other side.

To this it is objected, But it is written, And He took one of his ribs, etc.

He responded, It means one of his sides, as we read, As for the second side of the tabernacle (Exod 26:20).

Genesis Rabba 14:7
Of the dust (afar) – R. Judah b. Simon said, [Read] a young man (ofer): He was created as a young man in his fullness.

R. Elazar b. R. Simeon said, Eve too was created fully developed.

R. Yohanan said, Adam and Eve were created as at the age of twenty.

R. Huna said, Dust (afar) is masculine, while earth (adamah) is feminine:  a potter takes male dust and female earth in order that his vessels may be sound.

Genesis Rabba 18:6
And they were both naked, but were not abashed – R. Leazar said, Three there were who did not remain in their tranquility six hours—Adam, Israel and Sisera.  Adam, for it is written, lo’ yittboshashu, which means ‘six hours had not passed’ (lo’ ba’u shesh shaot)…

But they were not abashed.  Now the serpent was more subtle, etc. – Now surely Scripture should have stated [at this point], And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin.

Said R. Joshua b. Karah, It teaches you by what sin that wicked creature trapped them; because he saw them engaged in love play, he conceived a passion for her.

Leviticus Rabba 29:1
…on New Year’s Day, in the first hour the idea of creating man entered His mind, in the second He took counsel with the Ministering Angels, in the third He assembled Adam’s dust, in the fourth He kneaded it, in the fifth He shaped him, in the sixth He made him into a lifeless body, in the seventh He breathed a soul into him, in the eight He brought him into the Garden of Eden, in the ninth he was commanded [against eating of the forbidden fruit], in the tenth he transgressed, in the eleventh he was judged, in the twelfth he was pardoned.

‘This,’ said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Adam, ‘will be a sign to your children.  As you stood in judgment before Me this day and came out with a free pardon, so will your children in the future stand in judgment before Me on this day and will come out from My presence with a free pardon.’  When will that be? In the seventh month, on the first day of the month (Leviticus 23:24).

[2.30] And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a khalif, they said: What! wilt Thou place in it such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood, and we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness? He said: Surely I know what you do not know.
[2.31] And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; then He said: Tell me the names of those if you are right.
[2.32] They said: Glory be to Thee! we have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise.
[2.33] He said: O Adam! inform them of their names. Then when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not say to you that I surely know what is secret in the heavens and the earth and (that) I know what you manifest and what you hide?
[2.34] And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam they did obeisance, but Iblis (did it not). He refused and he was proud, and he was one of the unbelievers.
[2.35] And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust.
[2.36] But the Shaitan made them both fall from it, and caused them to depart from that (state) in which they were; and We said: Get forth, some of you being the enemies of others, and there is for you in the earth an abode and a provision for a time.
[2.37] Then Adam received (some) words from his Lord, so He turned to him mercifully; surely He is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.
[2.38] We said: Go forth from this (state) all; so surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve.

7.10] And certainly We have established you in the earth and made in it means of livelihood for you; little it is that you give thanks.
[7.11] And certainly We created you, then We fashioned you, then We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam. So they did obeisance except Iblis; he was not of those who did obeisance.
[7.12] He said: What hindered you so that you did not make obeisance when I commanded you? He said: I am better than he: Thou hast created me of fire, while him Thou didst create of dust.
[7.13] He said: Then get forth from this (state), for it does not befit you to behave proudly therein. Go forth, therefore, surely you are of the abject ones.
[7.14] He said: Respite me until the day when they are raised up.
[7.15] He said: Surely you are of the respited ones.
[7.16] He said: As Thou hast caused me to remain disappointed I will certainly lie in wait for them in Thy straight path.
[7.17] Then I will certainly come to them from before them and from behind them, and from their right-hand side and from their left-hand side; and Thou shalt not find most of them thankful.

[20.115] And certainly We gave a commandment to Adam before, but he forgot; and We did not find in him any determination.
[20.116] And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam, they made obeisance, but Iblis (did it not); he refused.
[20.117] So We said: O Adam! This is an enemy to you and to your wife; therefore let him not drive you both forth from the garden so that you should be unhappy;
[20.118] Surely it is (ordained) for you that you shall not be hungry therein nor bare of clothing;
[20.119] And that you shall not be thirsty therein nor shall you feel the heat of the sun.
[20.120] But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to him; he said: O Adam! Shall I guide you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not?
[20.121] Then they both ate of it, so their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with leaves of the garden, and Adam disobeyed his Lord, so his life became evil (to him).
[20.122] Then his Lord chose him, so He turned to him and guided (him).
[20.123] He said: Get forth you two therefrom, all (of you), one of you (is) enemy to another. So there will surely come to you guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, he shall not go astray nor be unhappy;

Paradise Lost, Book IV  – John Milton
Whom fli’st thou? whom thou fli’st, of him thou art,
His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent
Out of my side to thee, neerest my heart
Substantial Life, to have thee by my side [ 485 ]
Henceforth an individual solace dear;
Part of my Soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half: with that thy gentle hand
Seisd mine, I yielded, and from that time see
How beauty is excelld by manly grace [ 490 ]
And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.

So spake our general Mother, and with eyes
Of conjugal attraction unreprov’d,
And meek surrender, half imbracing leand
On our first Father, half her swelling Breast [ 495 ]
Naked met his under the flowing Gold
Of her loose tresses hid: he in delight
Both of her Beauty and submissive Charms
Smil’d with superior Love, as Jupiter
On Juno smiles, when he impregns the Clouds [ 500 ]
That shed May Flowers; and press’d her Matron lip
With kisses pure: aside the Devil turnd
For envie, yet with jealous leer maligne
Ey’d them askance, and to himself thus plaind.

Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two [ 505 ]
Imparadis’t in one anothers arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy thir fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least, [ 510 ]

Caedmon Manuscript,  Old English Paraphrase of Genesis
(ll. 939-951) Lo! now we know how our afflictions came upon us, and mortal misery!  Then the Lord of glory, our Creator, clothed them with garments, and bade them cover their shame with their first raiment.  He drove them forth from Paradise into a narrower life.  By God’s command a holy angel, with a sword of fire, closed fast that pleasant home of peace and joy behind them.  No wicked, sinful man may walk therein, but the warden has strength and power, dear unto God in virtue, who guards that life of glory.