The allegorical story of Adam and Eve is an accurate reflection of the historic transformation of man from free hunter-gatherer to fixed farmer and herder. In Genesis Adam and Eve are free from sin and do not know punishment. They are free to move about among the animals in paradise. They have no possessions and do not desire them. They are spiritual beings who converse daily with God. They do not fight, much less dominate or kill others. They are at peace with their world, with themselves and with God.
Then the serpent speaks to Eve, who has felt somehow restless and unfulfilled in the Garden of Eden, and the serpent offers her the fruit that represents knowledge. Adam allows her to accept the fruit, because He desires wisdom in order to become more like God, and thereby he follows her into sin. Their new self awareness causes God to expel them from the garden. Outside of the garden they become farmers; they till the soil and bind themselves to one place. Their progeny expand in number and in the area that they till and occupy.
Crime and sin are born and promptly become rampant. Men learn to kill each other, and perhaps even worse, they learn to subjugate each other. Civilization arises as the descendants of Adam and Eve expand in numbers exponentially. These large groups of people begin to organize. They build fortresses. They build towns with walls to defend themselves and the territory that they claim. They build temples to the gods that are now seen as terrible, menacing and powerful beings to be feared.
Before the advent of agriculture, man moved freely through his world garden like Adam and Eve before accepting the fruit. Modern anthropological studies as well as classical writings about hunter-gatherer societies, the recorded cultural and religious experiences of nonagricultural American Indians, aborigines from New Guinea and Australian aborigines as well as archaeological studies from all corners of the planet show that before the advent of agriculture, men were free to move about, they were not fixed to one place. They built no permanent dwellings and had very few possessions. They were not settled; rather they followed the seasons, animal migrations and other earthly or metaphysical fluctuations in a permanent spiritual odyssey.
These peoples formed small family-based groups; they were a bit larger than the couple in the story of Genesis but the groups were nevertheless very small. The groups would meet at times to celebrate or hunt together with other small groups, but these larger groupings were brief and normally quite peaceful. If disagreements occurred that went beyond ritual displays of anger, then each group would just go its own separate way. They had nothing to defend. This is very similar to what wild animals will do in their undisturbed habitat. Animals do not kill each other in anger, nor to steal. If a conflict arises one party chases the other one off.
Adam and Eve had no possessions, not even clothing nor did they strive to amass possessions. The people in the hunter-gatherer nomadic societies were similar in that they had very few possessions and no established communities to defend or conquer. No-one had punitive authority over another. In fact the idea of punishment was unknown and crime was extremely rare. However if a man did commit a crime, even murder, he was generally just expelled from the group. The dream of freedom was a reality for these people. However, the tremendously valuable gift of freedom has a dark side that often leads to its own undoing: insecurity.
In all of these societies men were the leaders and their role was to hunt and protect the group, but they were not the brutal masters that they would become in fixed societies. All interaction was based on voluntary participation; any person could leave his group and join any other group that would accept him or her. Women cared for children, gathered foods, prepared meals and clothing. Together men and women made tools and shelters. Their mutual respect was based on their appreciation for each gender’s capabilities. They were dependent on one another. This was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; they lived as one with their world and knew no sin.
This life, although difficult, was wonderful most of the time, but these people had no pantry. They had no reserves to fall back on when game was absent and a drought kept berries and other foods from growing. With freedom comes uncertainty. People starved to death or were forced to trek tremendous distances for days without eating in order to find food. This did not happen often but it was certainly always present in their minds, especially in the minds of women who were responsible for the children. The women in these groups knew that their children, more frail than adults, suffered and died more in times of privation.
In various places around the world, anatomically and neurologically modern humans evolved from hunter-gatherers into farmers. This process took a number of generations among those who became settled. The first farmers to show up in the archaeological record also show up in mankind’s earliest histories and legends from the Middle East and then from Egypt, China and Peru. It appears that the first permanent farming communities came into being about 12,000 years ago in the upper Euphrates valley and in the Jordan valley. Farming did not spread rapidly at first because it is not appealing to hunter gatherers, especially to the men in those groups.
However the trade-off of freedom for security that agriculture implied is very appealing to women. They are responsible for the survival of their children and therefore not as drawn to the spiritual life of freedom as the men. For that reason it is Eve in the Garden of Eden who accepts the trade-off offered by the enemy’s servant. She accepts self awareness, techne and knowledge and gives up freedom and innocence. Adam gives up his freedom and spirituality to follow her into exile because his overpowering base motivation is to pair with her.
With agriculture comes the accumulation of wealth (greed, luxuria and envy), the power of one over others (pride, lust and sloth), permanent friction between people fixed in one place (anger), overabundance of food (gluttony). Our sins became manifest together with permanent settlement.
So I feel that as in all parts of the Bible, and in particular in Genesis, there is the Word of God written by a very limited mortal who wrote for even more limited mortals. If we use our knowledge and consider the limitations of the prophets in regards to their understanding of history and the physical universe we can better see God’s message.