The Unity of Sacredness and Sacrilege: A Close Look at the “Fall” in Genesis

In Genesis in the Old Testament Narratives, Eve, deceived by the messenger of Satan, ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of death. The “Fall” of the sinned Adam and Eve carried out by the furious God is, on the appearance, due to the disloyalty of his chosen servants. However, a close reading of the “Fall” entails an inherent contradiction in the nature of Eve’s sacrilege. 

Note that the story of the “Fall” in the OTN differ from that in the common Latin translation of Genesis in an essential way, namely that the serpent in OTN disguised as the messenger from heaven and claimed to carry out God’s will. After Adam rejected the fruit, the serpent turned to Eve, threatening her, in the name of God, to accept the fruit — “I know that he, mighty in mind, will become enraged with you two. But if you, willing woman, will obey my words, you may be able to think of an ample solution for it” (547-562, 45). Out of fear to disobey, however, what Eve did is, precisely, disobeying. She ate and fruit and persuaded Adam to do the same. The betrayal of God’s words marked as the origin of sin, and humankind was thus condemned to be finite beings, dwelling on earth. 

The nuance of the “Fall” in OTN reveals itself as deeply paradoxical. The serpent addressed itself as the witness of God’s words. The presence of a witness, as Derrida points out, necessarily entails the absence of witness to such witness. The testimony given out by the witness cannot be verified. Rather, it only manifests itself as secret. What the witness demands is not reason, but, precisely, faith. While seducing Eve, the serpent promised under oath: “I know entirely well the orders of angels, the high roofs of the heavens; the time was very long in which I eagerly served God with a loyal mid, my master, the Lord himself; I am not like a devil.” (575-588, 47). There was no one to testify the serpent. The absence of any witness to serpent’s witnessing must imply that what the serpent demanded was nothing else but Eve’s faith. And it was the faith in God that the serpent demanded from Eve. Why is that? It is so since the serpent, though committed perjury by holding back the truth, nevertheless presupposed the sacredness of the oath. Sacrilege cannot be sacrilege if there is no negation of sacrilege, namely sacredness. It is precisely because the serpent swore under God that its false testimony became sacrilege. What made Eve believe in the serpent’s perjury, therefore, was not the content of its testimony for it was not verifiable, but the sacredness of the oath. Since the oath was sacred because of it was in the name of God, Eve ate the fruit of death because she believed God. 

As we are now aware of Eve’s loyalty in God behind her eating the fruit, we immediately see the paradox here. If Eve acted so because of her faith in God, how could it be a betrayal? Ultimately, it was her faith in God that was mediated in her obedience to the serpent’s command. Nonetheless, Eve indeed broke her promise to God by eating the fruit from the tree of death that God forbid her from eating. It is fair to say that Eve committed sacrilege simply by, on the consequential level, doing what was contrary to God’s teaching. Hence, Eve eating the fruit of death should not be viewed as simple as it seems on the appearance. Rather, Eve’s act is both sacred and sacrilegious. It is sacred because the serpent’s perjury that Eve believed in presupposed divinity, and Eve had no alternatives but to consult her faith in God due to the absence of witness to the witness, i.e., the serpent. It is also sacrilegious becauseshe failed to comply to God’s will after all. Thus, any attempt to make one-sided conclusion on Eve’s act ultimately misses the point. Eve’s act is the unity of sacredness and sacrilege. Such interpretation reveals the inherent affiliation between sacredness and sacrilege, these two seemingly negating notions. 

Such unity of oppositions is not a singular happening. In fact, it ultimately reveals God as the generator and the utmost embodiment of a unity of contradictions. After all, as the almighty God creates, He inevitably creates what betrays Him, what is opposite of Him, and what is free from Him.

Anlezark, Daniel, ed. and trans. Old Testament Narratives. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

One thought on “The Unity of Sacredness and Sacrilege: A Close Look at the “Fall” in Genesis

  1. This is a really interesting discussion of the contradictions inherent in Eve’s decision to eat the fruit. I think you could also see this same contradiction in the idea that having faith in god would mean that god sees and knows everything. You mention that Eve has faith in god as a holder of oaths, an idea presupposed by the serpent’s swearing by him and that since the witness is unwitnessed, Eve has to rely on her her trust in god. She could also be relying on her faith that god knows everything and knows whether or not the serpent is lying, and, as such, wouldn’t let her be deceived. Her faith in the serpent’s words is tied to her faith in god’s ability as an ultimate witness who desires her good, so, like you say, she is being both faithful and unfaithful to god.

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