ADAM, EVE AND THE SERPENT

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by Elaine Pagels

(taken from southerncrossreview.org)

"The story of Adam and Eve, and the Serpent was written down about 3,000 years ago and probably told for many generations before that. During the course of her investigations, Pagels became fascinated with the extraordinary influence this tale has had on western culture. Augustine, whose views eventually became dogma, derived many of his ideas from this story: that sexual desire is sinful; that infants are infected from the moment of conception with the disease of original sin; and that Adam’s sin (not to mention Eve’s) corrupted the whole of nature itself. Even non-Christians live in a culture indelibly shaped by these interpretations.

By the beginning of the fifth century, Augustine had labeled spontaneous sexual desire (not for the purpose of procreation) as a proof of – and penalty for – universal original sin, a concept that would have baffled most of his Christian predecessors, as well as his pagan and Jewish contemporaries. Earlier generations of Christians and Jews found in Genesis 1-3 the affirmation of human freedom to choose good or evil. But Augustine found in it a story of human bondage. He argued that all humankind was fallen and that human will was incorrigibly corrupt. Finally, with the power of the Church and Empire behind him, Augustine decided that not only non-Christians, but also Christians who did not abide by his dogmas should be repressed.  Many Christians as well as pagans, he noted regretfully, responded only to fear."

“What Christians see, or claim to see, in Genesis 1-3 changed as the church itself changed from a dissident Jewish sect to a popular movement persecuted by the Roman government, and changed further as this movement increasingly gained members throughout Roman society, until finally even the Roman emperor himself converted to the new faith and Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.” 
― Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity