Eve’s role in the story of the Fall has been interpreted and re-interpreted. At times labeled villain, at other times celebrated for her wisdom and self-sacrifice, the Mother of All Living remains a sufficiently complex character, inviting, as the human species progresses, reconsideration at nearly every Judeo-Christian cultural turn. Given the recent trend in therapy that argues a person doesn’t do something, even something bad, unless she gets some payoff from doing it, I have wondered what it was Eve may have gotten out of her transgression of eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Some would say, “Well, she took the first difficult steps in God’s plan for mankind, making it possible not only for us all to be born but also for us to learn to choose between good and evil and return to His presence through the Plan of Salvation.” Sounds good, but this answer is more about what we get out of the Fall. What, besides the title “Mother of All Living” and mixed reviews, does Eve get?
I think the fact that it was Eve, not Adam, who chose to disobey the Lord means something, but not what many people think it means–that she was weak, stupid, defiant, or irresponsible in contrast to Adam’s strength and obedience. Nor do I think that it necessarily means that she was self-sacrificing. The story itself contains no evidence pointing inarguably to such conclusions. What the story does tell us is that she listens to the Serpent and sees everything together, probably for the first time: that the “tree was good for food,” “that it was pleasant to the eyes,” that it was “a tree to be desired to make one wise.” So on one hand, she has God’s word: “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” On the other hand, she now has the Serpent’s words, “Ye shall not surely die,” as well as the provocative qualities of the fruit and tree. Then Eve does something that, according to the story, nobody had ever done before–she chooses. By this one act, an act of new consciousness, Eve changes the world.
For one thing, she and Adam can no longer live in their original, innocent home–the only place in this world they’ve ever known. Now they must work the earth to get what they need to live, the same earth, according to the story, from which they were formed. Also, Eve’s act forces them out of the only state of mind they have known as mortals–complete, unexamined obedience to God.
Did “agency,” as LDS call it, exist before Eve made her decision to partake of the fruit? According to LDS beliefs, those of us that have been born on this earth chose this life when as spirits we were presented with two plans for the future of mankind–Satan’s and Christ’s. But here on earth, Eve’s choice was the first manifestation of human agency, and in this matter she may be considered a pioneer, the “Mother of Human Free Will.” Many modern cultures take human agency for granted, but the Creation story suggests that agency started as some new spark of consciousness in Eve. Before taking the fruit, the brand of obedience she and Adam manifested may be compared to children accepting choices that have already been made for them. Like children, Adam and Eve were all innocence, no responsibility, until Eve left her childhood behind and chose an option that lay outside those the Eternal Parent provided (although it could be argued that if God really hadn’t wanted them to eat of the Tree He could have placed it somewhere out of reach).
Eve was in a unique place; her choice opens the Age of Accountability. It also opens up possibilities for the rest of us when we read the story. Because of that story we have the commandment not to partake of Forbidden Fruit and we’ve also got Eve’s choice to partake laid out next to the commandment, and that’s a gift. But back to our original question: What did Eve get out of eating the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Well, one could say she got free will, the first of its kind and a big payoff, indeed. Intelligence being tied inseparably to active free will, she experienced those first stirrings of progressive intelligence as she chose from among possibilities, became aware of the consequences of her actions, saw new possibilities, and chose from among those. It appears that Adam gained human agency as a result of Eve’s initiation of the physics, chemistry, and biology of choice in this world.
Just for fun, let’s take this a step farther: Eve’s choice in the story of the Garden of Eden suggests human free will is feminine domain, and recent genetic research suggests this domain extends to the genetic level, since newly developed gene maps lay out clear genetic female paths but not clear male ones, indicating at this point in the research matriachal control of the genetic momentum of the human race. Then there exist all the cultural cliches about women, such as “It’s a woman prerogative to change her mind,” an idea published throughout the globe, such as here, in Pope’s “Moral Essays”: “Ladies, like variegated tulips, show/’Tis to their changes half their charms we owe.” In the Pro-Choice philosophy, femimine control of the genetic momentum of the human race collides with the folk-whimsey that “By an unwritten law it is held to be the priviledge of the woman to change her mind, a licence of which she rarely fails to avail herself” to produce the assertion, “It’s my body, I can do with it what I choose.” A double-edged philosophy–one reflective of Eve’s act in the garden, but perhaps as mirror image. And like Eve’s role in the Fall it requires further scrutiny not only of the choices it offers, but of how consequences of such choices play out for the rest of us.