“Adam” and “Eve” in Genesis 2-3: A Campfire Translation


Adam and Eve, by Michaelangelo.

Several years ago, I was involved in the Mormon Theology Seminar on Genesis 2-3. The conference from that seminar was recently published to good reviews, and contains a paper of mine about translation and the meaning of names in Genesis 2-3. The short version is, “Adam” and “Eve” here should have been translated not as proper names, but as Human and Life. I also explain why, then, they got translated as Adam and Eve.

To kick off the seminar, I provided an evocative, expansive “translation” of the two chapters. I put “translation” in quotes because, although I have read this text in Hebrew as well as ancient Greek and Aramaic translations, what follows is somewhat to the right of “dynamic translation” or even “paraphrase.” (If you’re interested in translations, see my article here.)

Think of it as an oral impressionistic campfire retelling of Gen 2-3, meant to kick off discussion and pull out a few details we rarely notice. It’s meant to be expansive and evocative and playful.

When the curtains reopen in Genesis 2:4ff, we lack the expected full set dressing put in place in the previous chapters. Instead, we behold a rocky barren place. Nothing grows naturally there, nor are there any human-cultivated plants, as there is no human to do any planting. Although there is no rain, arid, it is not. Some kind of water (stream? mist? flood?) regularly comes up from below to water the surface. Into this setting comes Yahweh-Elohim, to form a human from the humus, an earthling from the earth. Once formed, the dull earthing becomes animated by the breath of life.

Poor guy shows up before there’s anything to see, though. God plants a garden, eastward in a land called Eden (so-called for its abundance of water) and places the human there. He causes all kinds of trees to grow in the garden, pleasant both to the eye and tongue. Two are singled out, the Tree-of-Boundless-Life and Tree of Knowing-Good-and-Evil.

As for the land of Eden itself, a river runs through it into the garden, and then divides into the headwaters of the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, and another.

But as we were saying about the human, Yahweh-Elohim put him in the garden, and assigned him to take care of it. He was allowed to eat from all the trees but the Tree of Knowing- Good-and-Evil, on pain of death.

Yahweh-Elohim noticed the human was alone. Not good, he said. So Yahweh-Elohim formed from the ground all the animals and brought them to the human to see what he’d call them. But among all of those he named, there was no equivalent match to him.

So Yahweh-Elohim put him into an unnaturally deep sleep, took one of his sides, and closed him up again. Yahweh-Elohim then built that side into a woman and brought her to the human. He was delighted, “THIS time, finally, my kind of thing! We’ll call her Woman because she was taken out of Man.” (BTW, that’s why a man leaves his family behind, to cling to his woman, and they really become one.)

Both of them were naked, but it didn’t bother them. Now a snake, sharper than any other animals Yahweh-Elohim had made, said to the woman, “so… you eat from all the trees in the garden?”

She says back, “Yep. Except the one in the middle of the garden. We’re not even supposed to touch that one, let alone eat it, on pain of death.”

“What!” says the snake. ” You’re not going to die. God knows it will change you; You’ll know good and evil, like They do.” Now, to be honest, the woman had noticed that that tree seemed edible, and was really pretty to boot. She picked some fruit, ate it, and handed some to her husband who was there with her, who followed suit.

Then, they Knew.

“Um, hello, where are my pants? What are pants, anyway? We can’t…” “No we really mustn’t…” “I can’t walk around like this in public…” So they sewed themselves some really uncomfortable but completely local, organic, biodegradable underwear. About that time, they heard Yahweh-Elohim coming back through the garden, so they hid, there in the middle of the garden. Yahweh-Elohim called out to the human, “where are you?”

Still in hiding, he replied, “well I’m mostly naked, so I hid.”

“Who informed you you were naked? Wait, did you eat from that tree, the one I specifically told you not to eat from?”

“It was the woman You gave me! She gave me some, so I ate it.” Yahweh-Elohim says to the woman, “what have you to say?”

“…I blame the snake.”

So Yahweh-Elohim says to the snake, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You shall be worse off than all other animals, living and eating in the dust. I will drive a wedge between you and them. You’ll snap at their heel, but they’ll crush your head.”

Turning to the women, he says, “As for you, though your pregnancies will be unpleasant, you’ll still turn to your man for more. He’ll lord it over you.”

Turning to the human, he says, “as for you, since you participated too in eating from the tree, things will be unpleasant for you too. No more just plucking things off whenever you feel, you’re going to have to work for it, every single day of your life! Thorns, weeds, you’ll encounter all kinds of nasty sweaty unpleasantness in working the ground for your food, until you return to the earth! You *are* earth, earthling! Dust, and to dust shall you return.”

Then the human named his wife Ḫawwa, Mother of All Life.

Yahweh-Elohim made them some decent clothes of comfortable deer skin, and dressed them.

And as he left them, he sighed, and said, “they Know, as We do. At least, one day they will. They cannot be permitted to continue eating from the Tree of Boundless Life. We will… ” So he drove them out of the garden into the thorny land and assigned sphinx-guardians to the entrance to cut off their access to the Tree of Boundless Life. So they remain, ever watchful over the way into the garden.


If you’d like to see the original comments and discussion by the original participants, see here.

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3 thoughts on ““Adam” and “Eve” in Genesis 2-3: A Campfire Translation

      1. I really enjoyed it, I think it supports a number of LDS ideas. I just ran across this new book on the history of the story. Sadly, as far as I’ve seen, it only briefly mentions Mormonism to comment on the Eden is in Missouri idea and doesn’t address any of the more substantive doctrines.


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