Kidding With Adam And Eve Part 1: Clement Of Alexandria & ReThinking Genesis 3

For the introduction to this brief series, see Kidding With Adam and Eve: An Introduction

“Contemplate a little, if agreeable to you, the divine beneficence. The   first man, when in Paradise, sported free, because he was the child of   God; but when he succumbed to pleasure (for the serpent allegorically   signifies pleasure crawling on its belly, earthly wickedness nourished   for fuel to the flames), was as a child seduced by lusts, and grew old   in disobedience; and by disobeying his Father, dishonoured God. Such   was the influence of pleasure. Man, that had been free by reason of   simplicity, was found fettered to sins.”

Clement of Alexandria, Sermon To The Greeks, Chapter 11

Traditionally, Adam and Eve have been received in the Church as having been grown, mature adults on their honeymoon in the Garden of Eden. This reception history in the United States has become politicized on the left and the right for the sake of the culture wars.  Conservatives use Adam and Eve promoting the Christian ideal of marriage, while liberals continue to work for the primary concerns of adults (education reforms come to mind) to the neglect of children. Both positions marginalize the subjectivity of children and they also ignore an earlier tradition in the early church that interpreted Adam and Eve as children.

A few reasons why the “Adam and Eve as immature trope” is important theologically. First, in the case of today, which we find with Clement, and later this week, with Irenaeus, holding the view that Adam and Eve were little kids when they started the fall into sin for humanity is a defense of God’s goodness and perfection.  Greek philosophical readings of Genesis LXX were popular in Clement’s day, and these readings understood phrases such as “God made them good–them being humanity” as God making human beings perfect and mature. This, according to the logic of Clement, was just not a healthy view. God has given humanity free will, and since we are equipped with such a weapon, there is space for growth.  No created being is made whole or perfect.  If this were the case, God is fully to blame for the fall, for evil.  That is the way that both atheist and Calvinist theodicies end up agreeing with each other.

Yet, if Adam and Eve are children, immature, but perfect in that they have free will, as Clement argues, the responsibility for the fall lies squarely on humanity’s infantile shoulders. In Clement’s view, from the quote I took from “Sermon to the Greeks,” Adam initiated the fall because he wanted to wear pants that were to big for him, his Daddy’s pants.  Not to take Clement’s argument out of context, for the first several chapters of Sermons/Exhortations, Clement uses a combination of sarcasm, shaming, Scripture, and a vast knowledge of Greek myths to argue how cruel and sexually immoral the Greco-Roman divinities and legends are. Rather than leave his argument as a complete dismantling of the imperial civil religion of his day, he wrote about the omnibenevolence of the Triune God of Judaism and Christianity.

As for the role of Eve, Clement presents a two-fold approach. First, he levies his familiarity of the Hebrew language to attack the cult of Dionysus, who butcher their orgy victims as the victims scream out, “Eva!” Hevia, similar to the word Eve, is also the Hebrew word, as Clement points out, for “serpent.” The bacchanals make the unholy holy, by desecrating women’s bodies (Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 1). Clement wonders aloud, “why is it the gods and not the goddesses that are so immoral?” The second part of Clement’s approach is to separate the image of Eve as a sex symbol to that of an ideal student.  Adam represents the Jewish prophetic tradition (from Adam to Moses to the judges to Jeremiah to Jesus), while Eve is a type of learning community (Israel/Church).

“But among the Hebrews the prophets were moved   by the power and inspiration of God. Before the law, Adam spoke   prophetically in respect to the woman, and the naming of the creatures;   Noah preached repentance; [2080] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave many   clear utterances respecting future and present things. Contemporaneous   with the law, Moses and Aaron; and after these prophesied Jesus the son   of Nave, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Achias, Samæas, Jehu, Elias, Michæas,   Abdiu, Elisæus, Abbadonai, Amos, Esaias, Osee, Jonas, Joel, Jeremias,   Sophonias the son of Buzi, Ezekiel, Urias, Ambacum, Naum, Daniel,   Misael, who wrote the syllogisms, Aggai, Zacharias, and the angel among   the twelve. These are, in all, five-and-thirty prophets. And of women   (for these too prophesied), Sara, and Rebecca, and Mariam, and Debbora,   and Olda, i.e., Huldah.”

-Clement Of Alexandria, The Stromateis/(my translation: The Weavings), Book 1, Chapter 21

Now notice, that Eve does not exist just to give Adam a plaything. Eve learns the names of the creatures that Adam taught. She is meant to be a rational being just like Adam. The role of the prophet was not limited to males. Clement, again knowledgeable in Hebrew and Greek LXX, recognized Huldah, Miriam, Sara, Rebecca, and Deborah as prophets of YHWH.

There remains a tricky problem with Clement’s reading of Adam and Eve as children. That is, he doesn’t address what Scripture meant by Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed at the conclusion of Genesis 2. Some will just say well, Clement is just a theologian, and theologians ruin everything! No,not necessarily. I think we need to consider Clement’s context, that he was trying to defend the goodness of YHWH in the midst of a sex-obessessed major city (Alexandria) occupied by the world’s largest empire (Rome). Clement’s interpretation is a reasonable alternative in the creation of a counter-narrative against the colonizing mythologies of Greco-Roman religion.

In the next part of this series, I shall turn to Irenaeus of Lyons, and his use of Adam and Eve as children.

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6 thoughts on “Kidding With Adam And Eve Part 1: Clement Of Alexandria & ReThinking Genesis 3

  1. Rebecca Trotter

    Very interesting. I didn’t realize that the view of Adam and Eve as children was present in Early Christianity, but it is something which I have come to understand as well. This may sound completely insane, but I have something of a fixation on the creation stories and particularly the story of the fall. And about a year ago I was given a vision which caused me to understand the story of the fall as an account of abuse by a powerful creature against baby Adam and Eve. Once I was shown this it was so obvious – Adam and Eve were clearly children and the serpent was “the cleverest of creatures”. And the behavior of Adam and Eve after eating the fruit is very much in line with what we know of how children respond to abuse; the shame, the hiding, the lashing out, the self-blame. I could send you a more complete explanation of what I was shown, but I look forward to reading the rest of this series and learning more about the early church father’s take on it.

    1. RodTRDH

      I wouldnt necessarily say that Adam & Eve were in an abusive situation. I will say that seeing Adam & Eve as kids better enables us to fight against child abuse.

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  3. lilliana

    It is not very clear whether God created Adam and Eve as kids or fully matured grown-ups.The bible only states they ate a forbidden fruit.I don’t understand what exactly they did..As Adam and Eve were given free will,they disobeyed God by listening to a serpent.Initially,humans were given power over all creatures of this world,yet they were given bad influence by a mere snake.Sometimes we humans sin without realising what we are doing.I feel Adam,as a man was supposed to take leaad,and,therefore be firm with Eve and remind her about God’s instructions.To me,he seems like he was easily influenced,so he was very weak.

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