Haven't you wondered why the Jewish view of Genesis is not about Sin?

I recently have been reading Jewish interpretations of the Tree of Knowledge… One of the more compelling views is that the Jewish audience almost automatically interpreted the point of the story , and the discovered knowledge, to be a reference to sex … which automatically disqualified humanity from immortality because the two combined would be disastrous.

And rather than the completely baffling warning from God that eating the fruit would be deadly… it was a word play which meant eating the fruit (learning about sex) would trigger mortality!

Since eating a fruit from a tree can only be a parable about learning of sex (rather than sex itself), the story loses its literalness.

While at the same time, the connection with Sumerian mythology is strengthened!: the snake deity Ningishzida was not only the deity of wisdom (cunning), it was also the deity of fertility, and was likened to a tree (with snake roots and branches).

One translation for this death’s name was “The Good tree”… or, "The Tree of Good […and Evil]!

The depiction of the tree and the serpent was intended as a simultaneously overlapping symbolic image! Exquisitely clever.

Later rabbis made the connection with sexual maturity. It was not an automatic interpretation, as you assume, which is obvious from the 8th-century B.C. usage in Isaiah 7:16 (For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted), which relates it to moral knowledge. Either way, the “sexual maturity” opinion is one of at least four interpretations of the tree that are considered “mainstream” views, but it is definitely a minority opinion.


Okay, let’s suppose it’s minority opinion. What is the majority view of the rabbis? It is my understanding that none of the mainstream rabbinical interpretations involve sin.

That’s saying something when it took Augustine … some 3 centuries after Paul, to radically reinterpret Genesis.

Hmmm. Paul was a first-century Jew. The church father Irenaeus in the 2nd century interpreted Genesis and the “first sin” as a story of maturity. Many patristic authors before Augustine treated it as involving sin. The rabbinical interpretation that equated it with sexual maturity began, as I recall, with R. Ibn Ezra seven centuries after Augustine.

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I think the difference between Jewish and Christian thought on sin relates to the fact that they have critically different foundational stories. This in turn leads to very different thoughts about the nature of the humans and their inherent capacity for good vs. evil plus what an individual can aspire to achieve.

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I guess I made the mistake of using too vague a reference to the Rabbinical traditions. This timeline should help us with that:

I am not thinking of a limited part of the timeline for Jewish traditions. I’m thinking of the whole span of time from when Genesis was written . . . all the way to when Augustine wrote out his interpretations - - affecting Western Christianity much more definitively than the Eastern or Orthodox traditions were affected.

So rather than look to the very late R. Ibn Ezra, I’m looking at how the Jewish people originally interpreted the Adam/Eve story cycle… and how it may have evolved (pun intended) right up until the time of Augustine.

While Irenaeus explored the topic as a “first sin” - - it would be Augustine who transforms the narrative into an all or nothing analysis of “perfection” vs. “sin”.

As I’ve mentioned in prior threads, millions of Christians - - for centuries - - did not find it necessary to use Augustine’s interpretation, nor did Jewish interpretations prior to Augustine seem to flow in that direction either.

Here you go:


Thank you for the link to the book. Google Books has much of the text available:

Link to Google Books “Portraits of Adam in Early Judaism…”

I presume you are familiar enough with the book that you already know that there is virtually nothing contained in it endorsing the concept of “original sin” as advanced by Augustine, yes?

I’m familiar with the books and authors they discuss, but I haven’t read it myself. Scot McKnight surveys the same material in Adam & the Genome. Judaism wasn’t so obsessed with Adam and his sin as we are, because they don’t share our concern for Paul and Romans 5. Church historian Gerald Bray has an interesting essay on Original Sin in Patristic Thought that may be more helpful, if you are looking for Christian conceptions of original sin prior to Augustine.

Here is some tangentially related food for thought: In all of the recorded sermons of the apostles in the NT, none of them start with Adam and Eve or the Fall when presenting the gospel.


@Jay313, Naturally I agree with your conclusion. In fact, we should emphasize it even further … for even the Eastern Orthodox communities don’t share the specific Western concerns with Paul and Romans 5 - - the specifics which led Augustine to explicitly formulate the doctrine we usually label “Original Sin”.

And this is my point: Western evangelicals can’t imagine a world that isn’t premised on the dynamics of a fallen world and original sin. While the early phases of Jewish thought, and even the most mature phases of Orthodox theology can’t imagine a world imagined by the Western Evangelicals!

I would have thought that the translation is not knowledge but realisation. God wanted his kids to know everything and they had sex as well and it was good as he commanded them to have sex as to be fruitful and multiply. The reason we all struggle and confuse it with sexual awakening is that the core element of the fall, the rejection over authority of the self goes along with puberty, and the sexual awareness. you can only realise that you are naked and feel shame about your nakedness if you have realized your private sphere over which you want to have personal control. The fall is all about puberty, to reject the authority of the father over your self to be your own self and know better.
The symbol of the snake if the symbolisation of deception, the split tongue as a sign of not speaking the truth.

Suffering mortality is the logical consequence of decoupling from the authority of God, thus being no longer one with his eternal existence.

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