My premise here is that the Old Testament of the Bible is actually a collection of ancient stories which have some meaningful symbolism in them and suggest far more insight and intelligence then is generally assumed by many skeptics. No I will not be arguing that the Bible constitutes proof of God's existence or that the work itself is divine in origin.
So first let's start with the assumption that the Bible wasn't written for nothing. Even if it is not the actual "word of God", let's assume that the reason the tome has survived this long has something to do with the stories it contains. This is not a new idea of course. A great many people view the Bible as written by man yet ascribe great importance to the meaning of what the Bible says.
There are plenty of folks who use both modern science and contradictions in Biblical text to refute the idea that the Bible is the literal word of God. Rosa Rubicondior's blog is among the best I have seen in this regard. She spends an enormous amount of time punching holes of all sizes into the notion that Bible stories could be literally true. Any scientifically minded person probably already suspects they are not the literal truth, but Rosa Rubicondior executes the necessary scientific rigor to remove all doubt.
The most consistently damning evidence seems to center around statements of scientific fact in the Bible. Every time the Bible describes the world in physical terms, it does so with a scientific inaccuracy that matches the comprehension of the ancient authors of the story. So for example:
The suggestion that living things are things which "draw breath through their nostrils"
The idea that the stars are a relatively low canopy above the earth, and
Little anachronistic slip-ups like a person riding a camel thousands of years before they
all suggest that Bible stories are not the work of an omniscient being. Quite the contrary, many assertions of "fact" in the Bible belie a rather crude and provincial understanding of the universe. This would be expected if, as all reasonable people believe, the Bible is a collection of stories written by early man.
|Early storytelling. Pictures or it didn't happen.|
Also worthy of note, the Bible has been extensively edited and extended over centuries. Changes to the stories over time were no doubt made to reinforce a worldview that a reasonably small group of powerful people wanted to maintain. None of this suggests that all the stories told in the Old Testament began as the literal word of God.
So when we look at the Bible -- especially the Old Testament -- I think it is far more interesting to look at what the stories might have meant to the early people who told them and passed them down than it is to continually prove what is obvious to any thinking person -- that the Bible can not be taken literally.
When we approach Genesis with this mind set, the most obvious thing that jumps out as us is that the authors of the Biblical myths were just as curious as other early peoples. Anthropologically speaking, ancient creation stories abound, and if nothing else, the existence of a creation myth and the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible are just one piece of evidence showing that early humans wondered where they came from and how the universe came to be. This is a colossal milestone on the path of intelligence that I don't think gets enough credit from folks anxious to demonstrate how scientifically ignorant the authors of the Bible tales were. The roots of all the scientific success that human beings will ever enjoy are there in those stories. Because the stories -- as inaccurate and improbable as they are -- demonstrate the awakening of curiosity in the human mind. Before science can even begin to explain anything, there needs to be a person who seeks that explanation.
|Richard Feynman 1918-1988|
So there is something very profound happening here in the tales of Genesis.
Some Restrictions may Apply
Whenever the subject of intelligence is broached, the necessary disclaimers must all scroll along the bottom of the screen in tiny print. Whatever we think we mean by "intelligence" can be hard to nail down in succinct and scientific ways. But we can reasonably ascribe some level of what we commonly call intelligence to animals -- especially mammals -- who use their brains to approach problems and use their memories to learn from experience. This alone is an amazing and complex ability of the mind. Yet we have no way of knowing if other animals besides human sit around and ponder their own origins. Many folks assume they do not. And without sophisticated language, it is clear that even if they do, their musings are necessarily kept to themselves.
But the existence of creation myths -- not just in the Bible but from any source in any culture -- show that early humans achieved great things with their minds. They not only developed symbolic language to describe the world around them, but they used that language to look at their own reflection and describe the self. They shared it with one another. And with the advent of writing they even shared their ideas with those not yet born.
"Rock big" and "animal running" and (from our earlier run in with Neanderthal mimes) "water bad" are all useful and even somewhat complex expressions to the animal that was early man. But the questions "Where did we come from?" and "How did the universe come to be?" are as far beyond simple environmental observations as calculus is beyond counting. So the stories of Genesis are as much a sign of the growing intelligence of early mankind as they are a mark of its ignorance.
So back to the ignorance that is Biblical Literalism...
Now, simply claiming that God exists, or that he is responsible for the origin of the universe may ruffle the feathers of a few rationalists. But such claim is a great deal more credible and defensible than the notion that the stories of the Old Testament are literally true. You can at least make a case for the possibility of God based on our inability to know the truth of the entire universe. It's a starting point anyway, regardless of how much grief you will get from skeptics. But to assert that stories which are provably impossible (and self-contradictory) are literally true, word for word, is to cling to a fantasy where up is not always up and down is not always down (and, for example, that a man named Noah lived 950 years).
Your Puny Immutable Laws of the Universe are No Match for my Omnipotence.
|Light from the Andromeda Galaxy|
has taken 2.5 million years to reach us.
When you are willing to take a pivotal constant like the speed of light and warp it to fit your preconception of the universe, you are playing a game without rules. You are playing a child's game of make believe where cops can't shoot the robber because "I was protected by an invisible forcefield and the bullets just bounced off". It is a fun game of rhetorical tennis -- to invent increasingly improbable explanations for why the story must unfold the way you want it to -- but it is not a serious intellectual activity and it is does not promoting understanding of reality or truth.
Can I get a Witness...
Imagine for a second a courtroom where a man has been accused of shooting his wife. The prosecution points out that the evidence suggests the man sat at the kitchen table, pointed a gun directly at his wife and pulled the trigger, resulting in her death. The man owned the gun. His finger prints are on the gun. The path of the bullet is consistent with this description, and the time of death is indisputable.
|An apron and heels? Now that's murder.|
What would we make of the claim that a bullet moved at a substantially different speed than all real world experiments and all the physics involved suggest it would? Of course we'd reject it. Yet some people are trying to change the speed of "ancient light" and argue that it was different from the speed of "modern light". But even then, in cosmological terms, 6000 years may as well be yesterday. We are not even debating the speed of light energy at the moment of the big bang, but rather a cosmological heartbeat ago. On the one hand we have all of physics telling us one thing, and on the other hand we have a "begat" list of all the generations from Noah to Jesus that suggests the earth is only a few thousand years old. Clearly we must change physics to agree with the Biblical family tree.
|Richard Bancroft, editor in chief,|
Bible. King James Version.
One of the most well known stories of the Bible is the tale of Adam and Eve. Like most people I thought I knew the story. But when I actually read it word for word I was struck with how far off base the common interpretation seems to be. I do not think this is a tale of "original sin" (a concept that comes 200 years after the death of Jesus). Nor do I think it is a story about how an apple makes two naked people suddenly feel shame. A deeper more careful reading of the symbolism in the story leads me to a very different conclusion about what the story actually says about the birth of man.
The easiest way to make the case is to simply refer to the text and comment on the story as it unfolds.
Adam and Eve... Sittin' in a Tree... K- I- S- S- I- N- G.
I kind of like the King James version of the Bible, but for talking about the story in detail, the New International Version is more readable to the modern eye. So this is the version I will be quoting as I parse the story of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2:5, we begin:
At one point the earth existed, but there was no life. A reasonable proposition. Interestingly, it even agrees with modern science.5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground,
Also a reasonably fair description of early planetary evolution from a scientific perspective. At some point, water formed and flooded the planet. Other translations use the word "mist" which may be even more accurate.6 but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.
We see the nostril/breath association with life again in the story of Noah, where (Genesis 7:22):7 Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.This description shows an early attempt at describing what it means to be a living being. There is no way to reconcile fish and worms and even flora of any kind by this criteria, but it is a clear attempt at capturing the basic definition of life. And for a crude and unscientific people it is a perfectly fine description of what separates living from non-living, at least in a kind of "description of life for dummies" kind of way. It is technically inaccurate (you don't need aerobic processes to be alive) but captures the essence of what it means to be living. Certainly no non-living thing breathes. (Don't say "wine" or you can sit in the corner.)
So, what we're saying now is we don't really have any idea where man came from (dust), but at some point, "the breath of life" is responsible. Seems like a pretty astute observation. Maybe a little vague, but perfectly reasonable.
Also note how well the "scientifically inaccurate" description of the origin of man from dust agrees with the "scientifically accepted" version of how planets like our own are formed (by the accumulation of cosmic dust orbiting stars). It seems that early man was not the only one who went with "dust" when the origin of something was a little fuzzy. The idea that human life could "come from dust" seems ridiculous when we are arguing that is how God made man. But it becomes somewhat less so when we suggest it is how the planet that gave rise to life was formed. So the notion that life "came from dust" is not really outrageous after all...
To set the stage for what is to follow you must assume that man now finds himself in an environment suited for life. Certainly it is indisputable that at some point, man existed on a planet surrounded by the means to sustain himself. If he did not, he would have starved. Taken very literally, this passage seems kind of silly. But taken in a general sense, it is not at all offensive. You have man and he lives in a place that supports life. Check.8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
Here we get into obvious symbolism. There is no reason to assume these objects are not merely story telling devices. We have gone from a general and alarmingly accurate description of the early planet (for a mind that lacks modern science) to a very specific and equally alarming inaccurate detail. I mean how can we accept that anyone knew or believed these specific objects existed? They seem to be an obvious invention of the story teller.In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
|Eve being hounded by paparazzi angels|
It seems very natural now for us to assume that a concept can exist in a culture or society. We might say, "The people of the island have a special taboo". And we would all accept that such a thing could exist and that -- even though it is invisible and merely a concept -- this taboo could affect life on the island. But early story telling man likely had no such conceptual understanding. There was literally no way to talk about knowledge as a concept without assigning it to an object in the world. So the "Tree of Knowledge" is born. And why the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil"? This could be so the specific quality of morality could be discussed or even simply so that the word "knowledge" could be defined.
"What is knowledge?", the early listener might wonder. And the story teller says, "you know, it's like when you know something... like how you know some things are good and some things are bad. That's called knowledge. It's awareness." Or Good and Evil could also be used as a basic example of duality. Night and Day. Good and Evil. Life and Death. Modern minds get hung up on the supposed existence of a tree, but the more important point of the concept of Knowledge of Good and Evil seems like something we can abide.
|"Paradise" by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530.|
The whole tale laid out in a one frame graphic novel.
There is nothing to say about this passage except that these are concrete details of the world that agree with what these early story tellers knew of their land. It is possible these details were once different for a different geographical region where the story was told, or it is possible that these details date to very early versions of the story. There is no reason to ponder this in great detail because they add nothing to the story except to try and give it a certain concreteness for the listener (and later the reader).10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
It should be noted that it is very common for local details to be thrown into a story in order to give it an immediacy it would otherwise lack. When rock stars say, "Great to be with you, Detroit!" They don't actually mean anything other than "Tonight I happen to be playing in Detroit," but it seems to matter to the audience that their locale is included in the performance and in the process it is made more real for all involved. So local details in oral traditions would work much the same way. If this tale of Adam and Eve were told a lot in what is now Iraq, the above river names and mentions of aromatic resin would become a fixture of the tale. No reason to think that it suggests there was ever actually a "Tree of Life" near the Euphrates.
This is a fascinating turn in our tale. We go from a mere description of early life and the names of rivers to an actual dramatic conflict. You must not eat from the forbidden tree. More about this later, but let's see how this tale plays out.15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
This gets complicated. We just introduced the taboo and now we are off on a tangent about how women came to be.18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
The Russian writer Chekov is credited with having said, "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off." The principle of Chekov's gun can be seen here in our tale of Adam. There would be no reason to put the Tree of Knowledge in the story if it wasn't about to be important. But before that gun goes off, we need more characters. So let's introduce woman...
This seems like a bit of bookkeeping. The notion that we have names for all the animals in the world. But think back to the context. That something would have a label that we can call it is not at all obvious until we develop an oral tradition. So any story about the origin of the world and humankind could also logically touch on some description of language. What is happening here is twofold.19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
 We are establishing that man has names for the animals, but we have no mention that the animals have names for each other. It is man's power alone to name the animals, claims the story. So in other words, man has that tool we call language. We could have had a tree of language, I suppose, but we're showing and not telling. Man names the things in the world around him.
 And we are also trying to talk about why woman came to be. We need her to pull the trigger on that gun.
No companion for man can be found in the animal kingdom. You could take that metaphorically as a suggestion that man's intelligence has no equal, or you could take it more literally in the sense that man can not successfully breed with any animal. The choice is yours.But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found.
This is just fascinating. Why would a deep sleep be required? It is almost as though this is the first literary account of surgery. What would ancient man know of surgery? Is deep sleep a metaphor for an altered state of consciousness? Or could it be a metaphor for ignorance -- something happening while we are unaware?
|It must be paradise. There are unicorns.|
What interesting thing happens if we take this passage to mean that "woman is a man with closed up flesh in the place of his bone"? Could this be possible? The hebrew actually translates into "one of his ribs" so it may be unlikely. Still I can not get past the idea that this creation of woman passage seems to be about both what makes woman different from a man and how we get more humans. It touches upon husbandry (animals won't cut it) and mentions sleep and a small rib sized bone and closed up flesh where the bone used to be.
We could choose to take this passage literally, in which case you have a bunch of random nonsense with no discernible purpose. (Why a deep sleep? Why the rib and not some other bone or organ? And most importantly why was man created without woman while all the animals must have already been created with their own opposite genders?) Or you could look for symbolism, in which case you have to return to the search for a partner for man, something about a bone, something about closed up flesh in place of a bone, and sleeping.
It is possible that different versions of our origin tale had different emphases. It seems likely that one version of the tale would focus on sexual reproduction. Others may have worked elements of that story into them without being as clear. But this will become more important later.
Wait, what? The story says, "this is why" as if it is obvious, but no part of this is obvious. Man leaves his father and mother because woman was made from his rib? This is why they become one flesh?23 The man said,“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
But this passage does make it more obvious that all of this rib nonsense has really been talking about sex. The "this is why" part points to what actually took place in the world the story was being told in. So in point of fact, a man did leave his parents. He did become one flesh with woman when he was united to his wife.
So let's now revisit this and see if it makes more sense. No, you can not be one flesh with the animals. They are not "suitable". Only woman is suitable. She is suitable because... well something about being one flesh because she is made from a rib and the flesh was closed up. Or now how about the idea that she has no bone and has closed up flesh where the bone should be (or once was). See it sounds less far fetched now. Or possibly it is a description of sexual congress. Man has an extra bone that is taken from him, and when he awakes from his sleep there is flesh where the bone used to be. Many men would find this a fairly crude but suitable description of their erection (and later lack thereof).
This is a tale of husbandry. Like teaching someone to put a condom on by using a banana, the tale of sex and "one flesh" involves a rib and a closed up flesh where the bone once was. And all of this after a passage telling us that animals were tried but a suitable "helper" could not be found.
This entire section strikes me as half creation myth and half instruction video. Early stories about procreation would have been both symbolic and instructional, as this story is. At the end of the bit, it explains that it is natural or necessary to "become one flesh". Leave your parents. Have sex with your wife. Such is the way. These elements seem entirely normal for an oral cultural tradition passed down from generation to generation.
This works on many levels. It is right after "become one flesh" so it is obvious that sex requires nudity. But it is also a transitional sentence to the next part of the tale. It kind of arises as a plot twist. If they felt no shame, and that was something that was worthy of mention, it must only be because we would assume that they did feel shame if they were naked. And that is interesting. Now we learn when and why this change took place:25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
|The birth of marketing.|
Now this is an interesting little problem, and one that is subject to odd variations in translation. What did God actually say about the tree? In the King James version he told Adam,2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely dieBut interestingly in the Complete Jewish Bible the phrase is:
So what is God really saying here? Is he saying, the tree is poisonous and will kill you? Or is he saying that you will become mortal?because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die.
It is hard to know given the context provided, but later God is concerned that Adam and Eve may become immortal if they eat from the Tree of Life, so they are not explicitly immortal even though they are living in paradise. Just don't eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge or you will die (maybe). Or become mortal (perhaps). Or (as the tree was the Tree of Knowledge) you will KNOW DEATH. This makes some sense, as we'll examine later.
But let's return to the action:
Don't worry, says the snake. The fruit of knowledge will simply open your eyes. You will be "like God" ("like angels" in the Torah). You will "know good and evil".4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The goal here was not to die. It was simply to gain wisdom. The damn snake made that sound so enticing, after all.6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Now this is strange. They did indeed gain knowledge. And this knowledge apparently led to shame. But there is no reason given for why this should be so. It is written as fact that the knowledge of good and evil would necessarily lead to shame for being naked. This implies there is something wrong with being naked. Yet God never tells anyone there is anything wrong with being naked. All the animals are naked. The only reason for clothes, it seems, is to cover up our nudity which we now know is actually bad because our eyes have been opened to the existence of good and evil. Whatever nudity is, it is apparently not good.7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Also it is interesting to note that the Torah has them making girdles, the Complete Jewish Bible has them making loincloths, and the King James Version says they make aprons. Whatever clothing they made from fig leaves, it surely covered their "naughty bits".
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
|Quick, God's coming!|
He'll never find us behind this bush...
This is possibly the most important sentence in the whole story. In every translation I have looked at, including the Torah, Adam says he hid because he was naked and afraid. Not ashamed. Afraid. He is not afraid because he broke God's rule -- that would read something like, "I was afraid because I broke your rule" or "I was afraid because I ate from the tree when you told me not to". No, he was afraid because he was naked. So it seems being naked has as much to do with fear as it does with shame.10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
God's concern for Adam seems not to be that he was naked, but rather that he was aware he was naked. And also let's not forget that Adam and Eve spent some time shopping at Mood for figleaves and then had a "make it work" moment where they fashioned these lovely apron girdle loincloth things. Would it be fair to say they were still naked? After all that sewing? Perhaps modesty isn't really the problem here and the KNOWLEDGE they gained about their situation is...11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
This is a lot of finger pointing. The serpent himself may have pointed fingers too, but alas God had not given him any. (Of course there is a debate here about whether a serpent is actually a snake or is some sort of mermaid snake thing, as shown in some paintings like the one shown here. In any case, if the serpent had fingers, he/she did not use them to point blame.)12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
This is an odd passage. It seems to be trying to explain some kind of Hatfield and McCoy thing going on between snakes and humans. "It all goes back to the day God cursed that trickster in the Garden of Eden." But beyond that it is odd for its poor science. Snakes do not eat dust. If this was intended as a diss, it is probably the best put down found in the Bible.14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
Okay, seriously? It seems like Judge Judy loses focus here. I can see why woman would have to suffer during childbirth. That'll teach you to break the rules. But the next bit. Why would it be a curse to desire her husband? Why would God make him rule over her? She was already created to serve man. She was the "helper". This much is clear. Adding this further emphasis of her subservience to her husband seems uncalled for both in terms of the narrative and the logic. This portion smells very strongly of some overt justification for the prevailing social order of the culture telling this tale. There is no reason to think God would have thought serving man was a punishment. And this just takes us back to a recognition that these verbal traditions served many purposes at once. They were teaching aids, ways to preserve traditions, and entertainment. Sometimes the verses intended to "preserve tradition" are more heavy handed than other verses.16 To the woman he said,“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
Adam doesn't escape God's displeasure either. But what he is punished with is very telling. And it speaks to the whole purpose of the Tree of Knowledge to begin with. God basically tells Adam, "Life just got hard for you. You will toil. You will suffer. You will die."17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
But note what did not happen. Neither Adam nor Eve DIED when they ate from the tree of knowledge. God said "you will surely die" but they did not die. So what happened?
God was not lying. What God clearly meant, and what is conveyed in the story and with differing accuracy in various translations is that "You will know Death."
And that is key to the entire tale of the "original sin". We are told to view the story as one of how Adam and Eve discover the shamefulness of their bodies because they are sinful creatures by nature and the Knowledge of Good and Evil gives them knowledge of their sinfulness.
But the word sin is not used in the story. And although they are not ashamed when they are naked before they eat, and they fashion clothes once they gain the knowledge that they are naked, Adam is not ashamed before God, he is afraid. Adam is afraid to be naked. And now he knows he is going to die.
So what did eating from the tree of knowledge really give Adam and his wife? The knowledge of their own vulnerability and mortality.
Adam means "man" and Eve (Havah) means "life". What better evidence is there that this is a symbolic tale and not a literal tale of the first man and wife?
The story of Adam and Eve is not about "original sin" but rather of how knowledge of the world leads to fear and knowledge of ones own mortality. This separates them from the animals who are naked and unafraid. It puts them on par with the angels and with God because they now have had their eyes opened. They now see what suffering is. They see what vulnerability is. They know pain because they know lack of pain. They know evil because they know good. And the know death because they know life. They have discovered duality.21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the groundfrom which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Interestingly they could have also become immortal had they eaten from the Tree of Life, which God felt he could not allow to happen. (Adam had already become "like one of us" though it is unclear who the "us" were besides God. The angels, perhaps?)
Again, looking at this story in symbolic terms, the Tree was a stand in for the concept. It was a concept made into an object in order to make the story more clear to the primitive mind. In short, it was an image. So the Tree of Life doesn't make you immortal, LIFE (or perhaps the "life force") makes you immortal. The Tree of Knowledge does not open your eyes. Actual knowledge does that. The tree bears a fruit that bestows the quality because the abstract concept was too much of a puzzler. Troublingly, the underlying concepts are still too taxing for some folks who choose to think of the images as literal representations of actual trees which grew in an actual garden at an actual date in history. And Man and Life (Adam and Eve), were, according to this pedestrian interpretation, actual people.
But what really happens in the story? When the characters that represent our early ancestors "ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" they became aware of the duality of nature. They became self aware. Even "self conscious" (thus their shame at being naked).
The reward for their excursion into the next plane of comprehension was to be cursed with toil and pain and the knowledge of life's opposite, death. That is what happened when the human race's curiosity and intelligence caused people to understand the processes around them. Without the curiosity that drove us to seek knowledge, humans may have been able to remain blissfully ignorant -- as all the animals in Paradise. Instead we were cast out of Paradise and never allowed to return. You can't un-see something.
So now let us return to a thought from the beginning. This story is often derided by scientific or empirically minded people as being fraught with error and emblematic of the ignorance of early man. But I contend the story itself is one of the awakening of the scientific mind. It is a tale of how man actually became man -- separate from the rest of the animal kingdom -- when he developed his own self awareness. It was not a mistake that led to the curse of toiling under the yoke of ones own mortality. It was curiosity and the desire for wisdom. So far from being a tale of ignorance (or sin), it is one of enlightenment.
left to right: Adam, Serpent, Eve.
Not pictured: God
When viewed as simply a story about the origins of humanity, however, it becomes clear that this is a tale of how men and women must mate in order to procreate and how they obtained knowledge of the self (which comes at a cost). Good and Evil (morality) is born out of knowing that one has choices. When you eat from the tree of knowledge you learn that you are mortal. The quest for meaning arises from that knowledge of one's own mortality.
So as was said earlier, the word sin is not used anywhere in this tale. But if there were an actual "original sin" (or original curse) that accompanies humanity -- that came into being when the fruit of knowledge was bitten into -- it would be our knowledge of our own mortality. All interest in the possibilities of an afterlife and all fears of eternal damnation arise from the simple knowledge that if we live then we must also die. From this pathos -- the fear of death -- all hopes for religious salvation spring.