It is one of the most familiar stories in the human canon: Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the forbidden fruit, and the serpent. We know the story, but how many of us have really thought about what it means?

I’ve always admired the focus and rigor of scholars who take a subject and examine it exhaustively, first from one perspective, then another, turning it like a prism in sunlight. This is what Arthur George and his wife, Elena George, have done with The Mythology of Eden. Examining the Eden tale in minute detail — and with numerous footnotes — the Georges employ their combined and considerable knowledge of mythology, archaeology, history, psychology, and religion to parse new meanings from a story that is fundamental in the Christian world.

Is it possible that God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as much to allow them to act independently as to punish them? Perhaps, since God made garments to clothe them and rendered Eve fertile so humans could procreate and go on to create civilization. And did original sin begin with Adam or Eve or come later, when Cain killed Abel? Intriguing questions.

The Mythology of Eden is a challenging read to be sure, the sort of book one searches for because one needs source material for a college or university assignment or because one has a professional interest in the subject. I found this to be a dense read, chock-full of references to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and lengthy expositions about human archetypes that I haven’t encountered since my student days. I had to reread entire paragraphs. Not that I oppose being stretched and challenged, bumping up against an idea I’ve never considered before, like what the Eden story meant for women, doesn’t bother me at all. As the Georges see it, the Eden story devalued women, casting the notion of the goddess on the scrap heap and subjecting Earthly women to rule by men.

That idea alone left me with plenty to think about.


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