Philosophy

The Life of the Mind

George Steiner

by George Steiner

The enigma of Genesis 2, 16-17 remains intractable. Why should knowledge of good and evil – fundamental to human maturity, indispensable to morality – be prohibited ? Why should this interdiction be imposed on Adam prior to the creation of Eve? Are there organic relations between sexual innocence and knowledge itself ? How is homo to ripen into homo sapiens without tasting of the forbidden fruit ? The serpent promises that knowledge will make human beings equal to the gods (the Hebrew here is plural). God concurs with the ‘subtlest’ of all animals. Disobedient man ‘is become as one of us’ (again that plural with its hint of archaic, persistent polytheism). If this is so, immortality lies in man’s reach. Hence his rapid expulsion from Eden and his fall into both history and death.

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