We may need to reconsider everything we have heard about Original Sin. I suspected this when my Bible Study Ladies read Lost Women of the Bible, by Carolyn Custis James. This collection of linked essays begins with Eve’s story, and I disagreed with James’ interpretation. My questions sent me back to a poem I started years—maybe decades—ago. Furious about the way many use the garden story to condemn women, I threw in everything I associated with the Judeo-Christian creation myth and came up with a self-pitying feminist rant. Soon after reading that disappointing poem, I tried to revise it into something interesting and mature to share with my group. I looked up the poorly remembered, tossed-in references to the Bible and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. By the time I found everything and turned the poem into a confused list, I realized that we might misunderstand the story. Our first parents were not destroyers responsible for everything wrong with the universe; they were heroes. Why? They eventually admitted their wrong and chose to produce the generations that would lead to Jesus. We all learn that Jesus defeats Satan and thus redeems our first parents’ big mistake, but we forget that Adam and Eve began the process by trying to right their wrong. That makes them human heroes, not epic failures.
Unfortunately, I looked up the place where Milton writes that he wants to explain God’s ways to man, saw a line about evil entering the world, started reading the footnotes, and realized that I can’t just argue my ego-driven opinion about one man’s interpretation of a myth we have all heard since we were four. Many people have no idea that Paradise Lost was so famous and authoritative that it used to sit beside the Bible on millions of bookshelves. I need to consider Milton’s life, 17th Century cosmology, all twelve books of the poem, and formal scholars’ ideas. All of that indicates more than a few days’ work.
My personal quandary with the Eden story also figures into this project. A few years ago, I presented a paper comparing Eden to Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Gilded Six Bits.” Way before that, I wrote a story about a scorpion running rampant in a woman’s body. Several years before that story, I went to Graduate School and started asking questions about God, evil, and mercy. One of my first professors, John Shawcross, edited all of Milton’s poetry, and his book was our text. I was completely lost in that class; my Paradise Lost paper was so bad he didn’t even grade it, and my book had almost zero marginalia. All of this means that Adam, Eve, God, and the serpent have been eating my lunch for a long time. My opinion, requires knowledge and logic. What began as emotional vomit now suggests a journey through a labyrinth of text and memory. The result may be a clear, referenced argument; this writing aims to share the hike.