The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve

Stephen Greenblatt. Norton, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-393-24080-1
In this fascinating exploration, Greenblatt (The Swerve), a Harvard humanities professor and Pulitzer-winning author, probes the “beauty, power, and influence” that the Adam and Eve story has held through millennia. Utilizing recent archaeological discoveries, Greenblatt compares the Genesis account, first written as a “counternarrative to the Babylonian creation story” by Hebrews returning to Jerusalem from exile, to both the ancient Gilgamesh legend and long-forgotten alternative narratives recently discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, such as “The Life of Adam and Eve.” Greenblatt undertakes an in-depth analysis of key historical figures whose obsession wielded enormous impact on religion and culture: Augustine’s insistence on the story’s literal truth led to the concept of original sin; Albrecht Dürer’s engraving The Fall of Man captured “the sheer unconstrained beauty of... our first parents”; John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost realized them as “flesh-and-blood people.” Greenblatt then explores how the European discovery of New World natives, Voltaire’s insistence on the story’s allegorical nature, and, finally, Darwin’s evolutionary theory led to today’s widespread acceptance of the story as myth. In a beautiful closing chapter, Greenblatt studies Ugandan chimpanzees for “traces of the Bible story... [in] the actual origins of our species.” This is an erudite yet accessible page-turner. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/10/2017
Release date: 09/12/2017
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