Things You Get Wrong About Adam And Eve

You can't get much more basic than Adam and Eve. Not that such a thing is bad, however. It's just that, when you're talking about the very first story of all, many people will point you towards the tale of this first couple. Many might encounter them in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, where Adam and Eve are created by God and set to live in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden. As you may already know, the pair mess it up by listening to a snake, eating some forbidden fruit, and attempting to cloth themselves after they realize that they're nude.

Of course, Adam and Eve don't just belong to Christianity, but also show up in the sacred texts of Judaism and Islam. They also feature in countless examples of folklore, works of fiction, and even pop up in the world of science from time to time. It's all quite a lot to take in, given the centuries of history and deeply held belief there, so it's no wonder that there are plenty of misconceptions about this couple. In fact, some people may be surprised to learn that they've gotten quite a lot wrong about the pair. So, what really happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and afterward?

You think there's only one version of the Adam and Eve story

The whole story of Adam and Eve seems like a straightforward case, one that can't possibly get too complicated. But, if you know only one thing about human history, it's that we like to make things complicated. And so even Adam and Eve have been filtered through many different tales.

First, as How Stuff Works notes, there are quite a few creation myths that draw upon the basic themes seen in the Adam and Eve story. A divine force creates a small group of people, humanity somehow messes things up (sometimes with the assistance of a devious non-human figure), and we're thereafter alienated from the divine and condemned to toil and suffer. And, all too often, all of the blame gets pinned on a woman.

In ancient Rome, at least according to the poet Ovid and his predecessors, it was Prometheus who created humans out of dirt and water. And Khnum, the ram-headed god of creation, was said to have formed the first people out of clay, echoing the later use of similar terms in the Bible (via Britannica). And consider, as How Stuff Works reports, that head Greek god Zeus created a woman, Pandora, to inadvertently mess up Prometheus' creation groove, to the point where the ancient poet Hesiod used her tale as an excuse to denounce all women.

You assumed that Gilgamesh wasn't involved

While it's true that the Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh doesn't show up in the Book of Genesis, there are quite a few surprising parallels between his exploits and the story of Adam and Eve.

First, as the University of Arizona notes, there is a parallel between the first couple of Genesis and another mentioned in the ancient "Epic of Gilgamesh." Namely, Enkidu begins as a "wild man" who eventually becomes "civilized" and in turn transforms into a fast friend of Gilgamesh (via Britannica). A significant part of the civilizing process occurs courtesy of Shamhat, a temple-based sex worker whose relationship with Enkidu could potentially be linked to the Adam and Eve story. Her weeks-long encounter with Enkidu is intended to humanize him and further separates the wild man from his previous animal companions (via World History Encyclopedia).

Baruch College points out that Shamhat, perhaps needing a breather, offers bread and wine to Enkidu. The man takes the food and, upon consuming it, gains the knowledge he needs to become a full human. Namely, it could be argued that, by consuming this human food, Enkidu begins to understand what it means to distinguish between good and evil, much like the later Adam and Eve did when they ate that fateful piece of fruit.

You think Adam and Eve only show up in Christianity

If you were raised in a society or household where Christian belief dominated, then you could very well have assumed that Adam and Eve are central people in the Bible only. However, their history as religious figures, as well as the story of their ill-considered stumble against God's plan for humanity, goes beyond just one religion.

For one, Adam and Eve figure pretty prominently in Islam, according to the Charlotte Observer. The key difference, as writer Rose Hamid argues, is that God ultimately forgave the repentant pair and never bothered with original sin (the idea that humans are born innately sinful, in part because of Adam and Eve).

And perhaps it doesn't really come as a surprise to learn that both Eve and Adam are pretty key figures in Judaism, either, considering that the Book of Genesis first figured in the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, before it was rolled into the Old Testament of the Christian Bible (via Britannica). As My Jewish Learning reports, the very name "Adam" comes from the Hebrew Adamah, which means "soil" and Adom, or "red," strongly implying that Adam was made out of a red soil or clay.

You're think you understand this temptation thing

The basic story of Adam and Eve, as related by My Jewish Learning, goes like this: God creates Adam from soil and breathes life into him. Adam is supposed to maintain the Garden of Eden, name the animals, and avoid fruit from one tree that grants knowledge of good and evil. Adam finds that he needs help and companionship, so God creates Eve.

Things go pretty well until Eve encounters the serpent, who tells her that she should go ahead and try that forbidden fruit, even though God said doing so would result in death. Eve tries it, shares it with Adam, and God casts them out of Eden. The pair are condemned to the pain and suffering of a mortal life.

As The Great Courses Daily points out, the first people to read Genesis may have had a very different interpretation of the tale than a simple "don't go against God." Eve's temptation may not have been simply to snack on a tasty piece of fruit, but to also take on the mantle of God and see the world through divine eyes. Key to that may be the desire for knowledge that goes beyond "good and evil" to all of knowing. But, as some may interpret it, that knowledge contains both great power and a heavy burden — a complexity that, of course, Adam and Eve could only fully understand after their rebellion.

You're pretty sure Eve and Adam ate an apple

For a moment, let's cast aside the heavy theological implications of Eve and Adam's choice to dine from the tree of knowledge. What, exactly, was the type of fruit that they ate? If you answered "apple" you're like many people who have encountered the bare bones of the story, perhaps in one of those illustrated Bible stories for kids. But are you absolutely sure that Adam and Eve were chowing down on the same sort of fruit that makes its way into pies, fritters, and kids' lunchboxes across America? 

Researchers certainly aren't convinced. As NPR reports, the Bible only ever refers to the fruit in question as, well, an unidentified "fruit." The same goes in the Hebrew version, where the similarly generic peri is used. Things only started to move in the apple direction when Jerome, a 4th century scholar who translated works for the pope, used the Latin word malus, which can sometimes be interpreted as "apple" or even other types of fruit.

John Milton, the writer of the epic 17th century English poem "Paradise Lost" also used the word "apple" in reference to Adam and Eve, though readers at the time likely thought of apple as yet another catchall word for nearly any kind of fruit. It's only later that readers interpreted the poem and other sources more literally and the whole apple in the Garden image really got started.

You assume that the faithful totally believe in the story

While it's true that there are some literalists out there who believe the story of Adam and Eve happened just as it is described in Genesis, not everyone agrees. Even religious folks don't always take it at face value. Consider that, as Gallup reports, the number of American who believe in creationism (which maintains that God created everything) is falling.

And even evangelical Christians, who you may believe are more likely to hold those sorts of religiously conservative views, don't necessarily fall into the literalist category. As NPR reports, there is a small but still significant number of evangelicals who doubt the hard and fast truth of the Adam and Eve story. There's genetic evidence, for one, which shows that our human genome is far too diverse to have arisen from just two people. And mutations don't explain that either, unless our species went through an intense round of genetic mutation rates that has since quieted down considerably.

That's not to say that this is an easy pill for believers to swallow. Interpreting the story of Adam and Eve metaphorically, while acknowledging the possibility that the infamous duo and their paradise may have never actually existed, is a step too far for some. For them, believing in anything other than the literal truth of Adam and Eve drastically undermines their faith.

You think there was only one first couple

Many religious scholars have actually mined two different stories out of Genesis. According to Bible Odyssey, there are two different ways in which God seems to have created the world and humanity in the text. While some people fold the two together, there are some significant inconsistencies. Genesis 1, for instance, says that animals were created first, while, in the very next chapter, it seems like humans were the first living creatures to debut. The chapters also refer to God with different names and each have a unique style, leading some to conclude that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 were written by two different authors.

Things get even more complicated when you zoom in on the first human couple. And, no, according to some faith traditions, it wasn't necessarily Adam and Eve who were the debut of our species. That's because, as Britannica notes, Genesis 1:27 references the creation of a human couple. But Eve doesn't make her appearance until Genesis 2:22. Jewish folklore maintains that this actually points to the existence of a first wife: Lilith.

As the story goes, Lilith realized that she was created out of the same earth as Adam and so didn't want to submit to him. Things went south from there, to the point where she fled Eden, turned into a demon, and God decided to start over with the more pliant Eve.

You believe Eve came from Adam's rib

Part of the "problem" of Lilith, as the Biblical Archaeology Society explains, is that she was created from the same material — soil — and at the same time as Adam. To solve said problem on the second try, God is said to have created Eve from Adam's own body, marking her out as a subservient helpmeet who was (literally, for some) formed from a smaller, lesser portion of Adam. Traditionally, that body part was said to be a portion of Adam's rib. But can we be totally sure that modern English translations of Genesis have gotten it right?

Not really, according to some Biblical scholars. The Biblical Archaeology Society reports that the original Hebrew word in question is tsela. That's been traditionally translated as "rib" for centuries, but a more recent analysis suggests that it's a very different bone.

Basically, the word may mean any number of bones that could be in the hands or feet, for one. Or it could be a reference to the baculum, otherwise known as the penis bone. Given that humans are one of the few mammal species to lack a baculum, some researchers have wondered if the text could be referring to that particular part of the skeletal anatomy, now missing in modern humans. Of course, that could be the result of evolution, but the notion has remained an interesting side note in Biblical studies for a while now.

You assume the Devil spoke to Eve

What of the devious creature that somehow gained access to the Garden of Eden in order to lead both Eve and Adam astray? How did the Devil come to such a central role in the first story of humanity?

Hold on. Per the Biblical Archaeology Society, Satan wasn't part of early Jewish theology. The earliest interpretations of Genesis didn't assume that there was some very powerful arch-fiend out to subvert God's plan. Eventually, however, changes in how Jewish people lived and read their own scriptures made way for a Satanic figure, meaning that many began to reinterpret the serpent of Genesis as none other than the Devil himself — even though there's no textual evidence in the scripture to support this.

In Islam, however, the connection is more explicit. In the Quran, says Britannica, Allah created Adam out of clay and commanded the angels to worship the new creation. Iblis (that is, Satan) took exception to this and offered up the tempting fruit to know humanity down a peg or two. The fall and expulsion from Eden proceed more or less the same as in the Jewish and Christian versions, with a significant exception: Allah offers to forgive the human pair if they promise to follow him and not Iblis. Thus, in Muslim belief at least, Satan really is the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

You believe childbirth is a physically painful punishment for Eve's mistake

This one surely seems pretty straightforward. After all, you can point straight to Genesis 3:16, which elaborates on God's punishment for Eve. "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe," he tells her, "with painful labor you will give birth to children."

The issue, once again, lies in the many, many translations of the Tanakh, Bible, Quran, and other religious texts over the centuries. Archaic Hebrew, you see, does not perfectly translate to English, Arabic, or really any other modern language. Here, the issue is the word for "pain." According to Answering Islam, that original Hebrew word, etzev, can also refer to toil or labor, as in Adam's toil over the earth to bring forth sustenance. That same word could also mean emotional pain, as in sadness. So, it's not perfectly clear that the original text meant the oftentimes intense physical pain of childbearing.

Yet that's been the prevalent interpretation of the verse for a very long time, to the point where modern women were made to endure labor and delivery without much, if any, pain relief, says the Journal of Anesthesia History. For many, it was the natural result of Eve's sin, passed down to her female descendants as a form of supposedly deserved suffering.

You're sure you know where the Garden of Eden is

If someone is a literalist who believes that the story of Adam and Eve really happened, or even if they think that the story may have been inspired by real events, then it follows that the Garden of Eden must also be a real place. After all, if Eve and Adam existed in some form, then they had to have somewhere to live. So, where is it?

Those hunting after the location of the Garden of Eden do have some Biblical evidence to follow, says the World History Encyclopedia. Genesis references various rivers that flow out of Eden into four different lands. It also gives a rather vague account of where key trees are located, though the exact nature of the location is muddled by conflicting verses.

Various other religious interpretations and folklore traditions don't make things much clearer. Some Jewish people believe that there is both a physical Garden and a spiritual one, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. Meanwhile, Bible Odyssey suggests that it could have been somewhere in southern Mesopotamia. Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also colloquially known as the Mormon Church) reportedly believed that the Garden was actually located in modern-day Jackson County, Missouri. Yet, for all of the beliefs out there, no one's uncovered definitive proof that the Garden is a physical place, much less pinpointed its location.

You don't believe in Adam and Eve at all

For many, Adam and Eve's tale may be an instructional story or a profound metaphor, but it's not necessarily a literal retelling of something that actually happened. Except, in a sense, our very genetic code proves that there really was both an Eve and an Adam.

However, it's worth clarifying that our DNA doesn't communicate information the same way the Book of Genesis does. What it does say, however, is that we are all descended from a "mitochondrial Eve," whose mitochondrial DNA happened to be the batch that was passed down through the generations to all humans today. As Smithsonian Magazine notes, however, that doesn't mean she was the only woman around at the time. Instead, it just means that her genes were the ones that, through evolutionary happenstance, managed to proliferate the most. A 2013 study published in Science estimates that this most recent mitochondrial DNA ancestor — "Eve" — lived around 100,000 to 150,000 years ago.

Men shouldn't feel left out, however. It turns out that Y chromosomes are passed down from father to son with few mutations, much like mitochondrial DNA is passed from a mother to all her children. This makes it possible to trace things back to a "Y chromosome Adam," the most recent common ancestor on the male side. According to the 2013 Science study, this progenitor lived around 120,000 to 156,000 years ago.