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Belief in a literal Adam and Eve was once the bedrock of Christianity. Some of the most gifted thinkers in all intellectual history lived and died by this origin story. But by 1892, in a short piece titled “Extracts from Adam’s Diary,” the American literary icon Mark Twain was already openly ridiculing the very idea of an original pair.
How did Adam and Eve move from first parents to witty punchline? Enter Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt.
W - W - Norton - Company - Pp
W. W. Norton & Company (2018). 432 pp. $27.95.
Greenblatt is an accomplished Shakespeare scholar and perhaps best known for his books Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (2004) and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Like most people in academia, Greenblatt takes the story of our first parents as fictional. Nevertheless, his cultural history of Adam and Eve as a story is itself a fascinating tale. His latest book recounts how belief in Adam and Eve rose to prominence, only to vanish later in Western intellectual culture.
Chapters - Beginning - Readers - Narrative - Reasons
The early chapters argue that from the beginning, readers of the biblical narrative have always had reasons to be skeptical about Adam and Eve. Genesis 1–11, for example, shares similarities with ancient Near Eastern myths like the Enuma Elish, Atrahasis, or The Epic of Gilgamesh; perhaps Adam and Eve are just as mythical. Their historical plausibility is further compromised by a range of historical-critical contentions, including the idea that the origin story was conjured up by Israel’s theologians as a political response to the Babylonian exile (e.g., 22). Even some of the earliest interpreters, doubting details in the Eden narrative, adopted an allegorical approach to those passages. Greenblatt reviews these arguments favorably and suggests that allegorizing might’ve won the day if not for the imposing...
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