The untold truth of Adam and Eve

You don't need to attend church to know the basic story of Adam and Eve. The Jewish and Christian creation story is ubiquitous. In the beginning, God has a creative frenzy, culminating in Adam. Adam gets lonely, so God makes him a partner, Eve, out of one of his ribs. Everything is great until a talking snake comes along and tells Eve to eat an apple, even though God specifically said not to. She does, then makes Adam do it. They realize they are naked and add some strategically placed leaves that will be very convenient to blushing artists throughout history who don't want to show genitals. God figures out what they did and they get in trouble. Thrown out of the Garden of Eden, they have to live in the crappy regular world, and we've all been punished for what they did since.

But is that the whole story of Adam and Eve? Is it even what the Bible actually says? Not even close.

The story of Adam and Eve was borrowed and changed

Like many stories in the Bible, Genesis has elements that were borrowed from other cultures and religions. When it comes to the bits about Adam and Eve, some key pieces are cribbed from the Enuma Elis and Gilgamesh.

The Hebrews (they weren't Jews yet) were in exile in Babylon, where they learned the Enuma Elish creation myth that involved a single, all-powerful god. But it was Gilgamesh, the Harry Potter of the ancient world, that really influenced them. According to Bible Odyssey, the hero Gilgamesh has a plant of immortality but loses it because of trickery by a snake. The gods also create a companion for the hero so he won't be lonely, although it was a dude in that story. A seductive woman ends up being responsible for men losing the idyllic lives they were living with animals and nature. After the fall in Gilgamesh, the companion realizes he's naked and the text says he has become "like a God," both exactly like Adam and Eve after they eat the forbidden fruit in Genesis.

But this doesn't mean the Hebrews' version isn't really important. They wrote the stories in Genesis after their exile was over. By writing a myth that was theirs, a creation story of their very own, they were solidifying themselves as a people. They were making their own mythology. Theologians are also fascinated by the changes they made to the bits they borrowed because it says a lot about what was important to them.

God creates humans twice in Genesis

If you actually read Genesis, you'll notice God creates the universe and everything in it twice, and the two accounts directly contradict each other in some places. If you don't take the creation story literally, as many Christians and Jews don't, then it's not an issue.

As Bible Odyssey points out, the writing styles of the two stories are totally different, and they seem to have different theological goals they want to achieve by telling their version the way they do. This would heavily imply they were written by two different people at two different times for two different reasons and combined later. But that's a problem for some Biblical scholars who believe Genesis was one story written completely by Moses.

Some people in history have gone to great lengths to make the two versions mesh. Like when they made Adam a hermaphrodite. In the first version of creation, it says God formed Adam and Eve at the same time, "male and female he created them." According to Hypotheses, some early Christian theologians decided this meant they had "serene undifferentiation," or basically were both sexes. Many church leaders were uncomfortable with that idea, but it stuck around as a theory for centuries.

ThoughtCo says the two versions of creation are also where the idea of Lilith comes from. Jewish mythology says she was Adam's first wife, who became a demon. Lilith is the woman mentioned in the first creation story, while Eve is the one made later from one of Adam's bones.

Was Eve made from Adam's baculum?

It's always important to remember that if you're reading the Bible in English, you're reading a translation. This becomes especially vital when you learn things like Eve was created from one of Adam's ribs because that's not what the original Hebrew word means. Biblical Archaeology says "tsela" appears 40 times in the Bible, and the only time it's translated as "rib" is when Eve shows up. It usually refers to the side of something, or "limbs lateral to the vertical axis of an erect human body." So if Eve was really just made from some vague side area of Adam, this leaves a lot of interpretation. Enter the dong bone theory.

A legitimate Biblical professor put forward the idea that Eve was in fact made from Adam's baculum. Since the penis bone is extremely common in mammals (even other primates have one) but humans males are missing this piece of kit, Dr. Ziony Zevit thinks Genesis holds the answer. If God took a bone from Adam, then his descendants presumably wouldn't have that bone. Men have an even number of ribs but are missing the baculum. So it stands to reason, he says, that's the real bone God formed Eve from.

While scientists aren't actually sure why humans lost their baculum, people were understandably not exactly thrilled with this new theory. The Times of Israel reported that many readers were incensed at the idea. One accused Zevit of trying to "damage [her] faith" and cause her to doubt the Bible.

The belly button question

It seems like such a minor thing: Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons? But it's been a theological nightmare for millennia. If they had them, then they have the scar of a gestation that never occurred, so why would God put it there? On the other hand, if they didn't have belly buttons, then how were they perfect representations of humans?

Fundamentalist Christians tend to be Team No Belly Button. Writing for Creation Ministries International, one said there would be no reason for God to create Adam and Eve with "a false indication that they had developed in a mother's womb." The book Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? records a Congressional committee getting involved in the debate in 1944, when it objected to a pamphlet given to soldiers that included an image of Adam and Eve with belly buttons, saying this was an insult to fundamentalists.

The debate has been a huge problem for artists through the centuries. Some just added a few convenient navel-covering leaves. Many left Adam and Eve with completely smooth stomachs. But after the Renaissance, most included belly buttons because they looked weird without them.

In a bizarre twist, the belly button debate met the evolution debate. An 1857 book said the fact Adam and Eve had belly buttons proved the Earth was only a few thousand years old. All the seemingly older stuff, like the fossil record, was just the Earth's version of an unused belly button, "a past history of the earth that never existed except in the Divine Mind."

Genesis says nothing about the forbidden fruit being an apple

Ask anyone what fruit Adam and Eve ate that made God angry and they'll tell you it was an apple. But if you actually read the Bible, it doesn't say anything at all about what specific kind of fruit it was. In English translations, it's just "the fruit" on "the tree." Even if in the original language, the Hebrew word is "peri," which is equally as vague. According to NPR, peri could mean "absolutely any fruit" and Jewish scholars have interpreted it as "a fig, a pomegranate, a grape, an apricot, a citron, or even wheat." Others thought of it as an intoxicating drink, like wine.

So why is everyone so sure it's an apple? Because of a pun. In the fourth century A.D., Pope Damasus decided the Bible needed to be translated into Latin. The scolar Jerome was given the job, and when he got to the mention of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil," he apparently decided to make a pun. In Latin, "malus" means evil, but it also means apple. So the fruit of the tree that let Adam and Eve know evil was an apple, haha, what a great joke. Early churchgoers were probably rolling in the aisles.

But it was John Milton who really cemented the image when he called the forbidden fruit an apple twice in Paradise Lost. After that, pretty much all artists depicted Adam and Eve eating an apple, and today it's weird to think of it as anything else.

Eve's sin meant women didn't get to use pain meds in childbirth for a long time

Evolution (or God) gave us big skulls and slim hips, so childbirth is extremely painful. Fortunately, we now have lovely drugs to take some of that agony away. But even before epidurals, there were plenty of ways to make birthing a baby less horrible for the mother. But men said no because Eve's sin of eating the forbidden fruit meant women had to suffer.

God does punish Eve in Genesis 3:16 when he says, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children." But as pointed out by Christianity Today, we have another translation issue. The original word used means "labor, toil, or work" everywhere else in the Bible. Only when talking about giving birth did translators decide it also included pain. Women in labor probably don't care about the deep theological implications, they just want the pain to stop, but religious men through the centuries sure have.

An article in the Journal of Anesthesia History says Martin Luther wrote that women should be thrilled they got to "gloriously suffer" to bring forth babies. A (male) New England pastor once opined that alleviating the pain of women in childbirth would "deprive God of the pleasure of their deep, earnest cries of help."

This theological argument resulted in a huge backlash when pain medication started being used during labor in the 1800s. Since God allegedly demanded that there be pain, taking it away was sacrilegious. Even today some people feel this way.

Islam has a slightly different Adam and Eve story

Adam and Eve don't just show up in the Jewish and Christian holy books; they make an appearance in the Quran as well. But the Islamic version of their story has some key differences to the other Abrahamic religions.

According to Al-Islam, it starts out similarly: God makes Adam and Eve, who are special compared to the animals, and tells them they can't eat from the special tree. Then Satan comes along and tricks them into eating from the tree. But here is a major theological change. Satan tricks them both, not just Eve. They both eat from the tree and they are both equally to blame. Nowhere in the Quran is Eve a temptress, nor does God give women the punishment he does in Genesis because of what she did. The Encyclopedia Britannica says there is no concept of original sin in Islam, either. Adam and Eve were punished for what they did, but that punishment was for them alone, not all of humanity forever.

Later Islamic traditions added to the story. They say when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, they were separated for 200 years. When they meet up again they have two sons, Qābīl and Hābīl, who each had a twin sister. And just like Cain and Abel, Qābīl kills Hābīl. But there were plenty of other kids because Eve eventually had 20 sets of twins, and before he died Adam had 40,000 offspring.

The pre-Adamite movement explains evolution and supported slavery

In the 1800s, scholars started to understand more about the Ancient Egyptian civilization. Texts were being deciphered and monuments dated. And a lot of the stuff was really old. This presented, as American Egyptomania puts it, "a crisis for Christianity." If the Bible is literal and Adam and Eve were only created a few thousand years ago, how could this Egyptian stuff be older than that? The pre-Adamite theory held the answer.

Pre-Adamite simply means that there were people alive before Adam. Creation Ministries International says this idea dates to 1655 when a French guy wrote two books about it. This theory solved some problems, like where Cain's wife comes from. In Genesis, only Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel have been mentioned when Cain murders his brother. But suddenly we learn there are cities of people and Cain quickly finds a wife. The pre-Adamite theory explains where they came from.

Some Christians also liked this idea because it meant some people on Earth were descended from not-Adam and Eve and were therefore not as important. Shocking no one, those inferior people were theorized to be the less white ones, and the idea was used to justify slavery. These days some evangelicals still embrace the theory to explain evolution and why things are so old when Adam and Eve were much more recent in Genesis. They say that early humans lived for millions of years, then went extinct and God replaced them with Adam and Eve, who were special.

The Garden of Eden has been located everywhere

There were lots of people throughout history who believed the Garden of Eden was a real place, and some of them set out to find it. This was complicated, since Genesis says it's where one river splits into four, and that's it. Not a lot to go on.

Christopher Columbus was "keenly interested" in finding the Garden of Eden, according to the University of Virginia. He thought he was close when he landed on Hispaniola, and even closer in Venezuela. The Public Domain Review says the explorer David Livingstone declared it was at the source of the Nile (although he was mad with malaria at the time). Methodist minister William Warren wrote a book in 1881 explaining how he figured out Eden was located at the North Pole. But almost simultaneously other people were publishing their proof that earthly Paradise was outside Damascus or in California's Santa Clara Valley. The 20th century saw "proof" it was in Ohio, Florida, and Mongolia. The New York Times reported some residents of the Seychelles were hoping to rediscover Eden, alleged to be on one of their islands, before Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1972. Other theories include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bahrain, South Carolina, Somalia, or submerged in the Persian Gulf.

But the most commonly accepted location over the years has been Iraq. Not that it's that simple. If you go to that country wanting to visit Paradise, there are two competing places that both claim to be the real Garden of Eden.

The number of Christians who think the creation story is literal is dropping

There is often an assumption that Christians believe the creation story in Genesis is absolutely literal and that Adam and Eve actually existed. There definitely are people who believe that, but in America, at least, they're dwindling.

According to a Gallup poll in 2017, only 38 percent of adult American Christians surveyed believed God created Adam and Eve as fully human individuals about 10,000 years ago. An equal amount believed evolution happened but with God's guidance in some way. And 19 percent of the group believed in a God-free evolution process, with Protestants more likely to believe in some version of evolution than Catholics.

Even evangelicals are starting to break from a strict interpretation. NPR reported on many "Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century" and catch up with accepted science. One said that believing what science tells us doesn't mean religion is wrong. Instead it's "an opportunity to have an increasingly accurate understanding of the world — and from a Christian perspective, that's an increasingly accurate understanding of how God brought us into existence."

In this, they are just following what the original writers of Genesis probably had in mind. Christian scholars have long believed it was originally written as allegory and poetry more than history. It wasn't until St. Augustine started thinking deep theological thoughts about creation in the fourth century A.D. that anyone said it should be taken literally.

Who were genetic Adam and Eve?

In 2018, tabloids and other less reputable news sources reported on a study published in the journal Human Evolution. But they got it completely wrong. If you believed the headlines, scientists had proven the existence of Adam and Eve. They traced our genetics back and discovered we all come from one couple who lived tens of thousands of years ago. Of course, that's not how anything works.

As Patheos points out, the study was only looking at mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA. That leaves a whole lot more chromosomal DNA that could (and almost certainly did) come from other people. Nor were Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam a couple. Not in the slightest. Scientists narrowed the time Mitochondrial Eve was on earth to 100,000-230,000 years ago. Even with that giant a time period he could overlap, Y-chromosomal Adam probably lived about 75,000 years before her. And scientists were definitely not saying these two people were the first people on Earth, either. Despite her misleading nickname, Mitochondrial Eve was supposed to represent "the most recent common mitochondrial ancestor of all living humans … not the first human woman ever." But so many news stories got it wrong that the researchers had to release a statement saying they believed in evolution and were not saying there was a single Adam and Eve.

It was strange this was reported on at all, considering it wasn't even a new idea. A 2013 study in the journal Science made headlines for coming to the same basic conclusion.