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The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination Paperback – September 1, 2002
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About the Author
Gary A. Anderson is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. He is the author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage.
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Top Customer Reviews
So I read it.
Having read the book, I don’t understand why this book was so influential. He follows an Adam and Eve motif through scripture, which is interesting, I supposed, but not exactly ground breaking or revolutionary.
Anderson reads Jewish and Christian sacred texts, later comments, and even art. He examines what works of art like the Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel or Anastasis in St. George's Greek Orthodox Church in Toranto say about the story. He spends some time commenting on John Milton's Paradise Lost. He gives attention to the writings of the apostolic church and early church fathers, as well as their theological gleanings from the Adam and Eve story. The reader will come away seeing how much influence the characters of Adam and Eve have had on the human imagination.
Some important subjects that Anderson covers include the serpent/Satan figure; views of early human sexuality (if the Garden of Eden was God's temple, and Adam and Eve his priest, how could they have had sex before the "fall"?; Mary's relation to Eve; what it means to be embodied; and the eschatological destiny of humanity based on the beginning of humanity.
If you are searching for a solid book on the Adam and Eve story, the use of the Book of Genesis in other Jewish and Christian literature, an example of hermeneutics and reception history, or just an awareness of what stories have grown from the biblical text that may influence your own thinking without your knowledge, this is a fantastic read. It is an easy read at one hundred and eighty-eight pages excluding the preface and the appendixes (plus it has a fair amount of pictures). I recommend it.
The subtitle of the book is "Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination." For this reader, placing religion within the realm of imagination is a welcome step, as it removes religion from epistemological disputes that ground themselves in certain notions of knowledge as "certainty"; furthermore, it gives room for hermeneutics - the interpretation of texts - and recognizes that different interpretations need not necessarily be seen as antithetical to or divergent from a larger tradition.
It is interesting, for example, to compare St. Augustine's readings of Genesis with St. Ephrem's readings. Although both early Christian thinkers are Doctors of the Church in Roman Catholicism and considered by the Orthodox and Anglican churches to be among the greatest of all Christian theologians, their understandings of the Adam and Eve narrative - particularly the fall and sexuality - are quite divergent. What becomes apparent is that context and cultural tendencies play a role in their interpretations; in particular, St. Ephrem's interpretations very closely parallel those of Jewish beliefs that were widely held in Syria, where Ephrem lived, at the time of his writing.
The book is neither limited to Christian readings of the story nor do Jewish readings simply serve as a stage on which to present Christian interpretations. Anderson spends a good time detailing both Rabbinic and non-Rabbinic writings; while he spends less time detailing Rabbinic (= normative Jewish) sources than detailing normative Christian sources (such as the aforementioned interpretations of Augustine and Ephrem), this does not mean that he spends less time on Jewish thought as such: he spends quite a good time discussing so-called "apocryphal" Jewish and Jewish-Christian literature, neither of which ever became normative in either tradition, but both of which are important for understanding the context/s and the spectrum of belief/s that were a part of the Jewish and Christian worlds during their formative periods. And, as can be seen from the example of Ephrem, such seemingly distant "apocrypha" may, in fact, be far more a part of the larger understanding of such a seemingly simple text as Genesis 1 - 3 than would otherwise be assumed.
This is a great book that works on multiple levels: historical, theological and socio-cultural. By bringing in so many voices - Jewish and Christian, normative and distantly normative - Anderson shows the incredible ability of "the" standard text to be read in ways that are both insightful and imaginative. It is in the imagination that the space for reading exists, and Anderson illuminates this almost perfectly.