This is a guest post by James Zimmerman. He’s the author of the book Deliverance at Hand!: The Redemption of a Devout Jehovah’s Witness.
As a way to explain their beliefs to the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watchtower Society periodically publishes comics on their website, jw.org. Their latest illustrated offering is “Adam and Eve Become Selfish.”
Witnesses believe Adam and Eve were real. That is, they believe that Adam was an actual historical figure, created as the first human ever, in 4026 BC, and that Eve was created soon after. Adam and Eve were created in full adult form, complete with characteristics that made it appear they had been alive for several years, including a full set of teeth, a well-groomed beard on Adam and a head of hair reaching halfway down Eve’s back.
Witnesses believe these two perfect, falsely-aged humans literally lived in a garden and that they were to extend the borders of the garden until the entire planet — pole to pole — resembled a city park. They and their descendants were never supposed to get sick, grow old, or die. Witnesses also believe that that’s what God still intends the world to be like, and it will be like that very soon. In fact, unlike most Christian denominations, Witnesses are not lured by promises of heaven or threats of hell. The vast majority of them hope, not to lilt on some cloud with wings and a harp, but to live forever on Earth. They reason that if Adam and Eve had never sinned, they never would have died and, thus, they’d still be right here on Earth with us.
But, of course — spoiler alert! — they did sin, and that’s often been a tricky thing for the Watchtower Society to explain to its youngest members — primarily because it just doesn’t make sense. Two people stole some fruit… and the punishment was that billions of people have been condemned to a life of suffering, culminating in death.
This recent comic epitomizes the difficulty with taking the Garden of Eden story as historical fact, as well as the Watchtower’s continued efforts to rationalize it.
On page one, a caption notes that God invited Adam and Eve to be his friends. On the next page, there’s a cartoon bubble of Adam, saying to Eve, “Jehovah says that we should not eat fruit from that tree.” The Book of Genesis doesn’t really say anything about God making friends with the humans — this is just a case of the Watchtower Society trying to make their god, Jehovah, more personable. But this just makes the story worse: if God really wanted to be friends, why didn’t he talk directly to Eve, too? Why did he tell Adam this important rule, but then leave it to Adam to tell his wife second-hand?
No wonder the snake approached Eve; she had no direct evidence that God forbade her from eating the tree’s fruit. God hadn’t said anything to her. For all she knew, Adam was lying about Jehovah.
As for the snake, the comic tells kids, “Making a snake appear to talk, Satan the Devil lied to Eve.” There are a number of problems with this statement, all of which bothered me as a Witness youth, and which, I suspect, don’t sit well with a number of current Witnesses, either.
First, the idea that Satan is using a snake as a ventriloquist uses a dummy is pure conjecture. Nowhere in Genesis is it stated that the snake is anything other than a snake. Second, if Satan really was manipulating a snake, why? Why not just appear in human form? Or, better yet, why not manipulate Adam? Certainly those options would have been more believable than a talking snake. Third, what, exactly, did the snake say that was a lie? According to the comic, the snake told Eve she “will not die” if she eats from the fruit, and that she would be like God if she did eat from it.
This is playing a bit loose with the Genesis text, in which God tells Adam he must not eat from the tree, “for in the day you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). The snake was therefore being honest: Eve didn’t die that day. In fact, she lived long enough to have several children, and though the Bible doesn’t indicate how old she was when she died, it claims Adam lived to be 930, so there’s a good chance she lived about that long, too. At least, according to the story.
And what about the snake’s assertion that eating the fruit would make her “like God”? Well, later in Genesis, God says that Adam and Eve have “become like one of us in knowing good and bad” (Genesis 3:22). So, again, the snake was being honest.
According to the comic, Eve then enticed Adam to eat from the tree, selfishly disobeying God, causing Him to become deeply hurt. God then told them they would die — not that day, or even that century — but “eventually,” and, in the meantime, they were booted from their paradise and God threw away their friendship bracelets.
Telling Witness children that we all suffer and die because a snake told Eve the truth, prompting her to eat a piece of fruit, doesn’t quite sound as convincing as telling them that a being of pure evil lied to Eve, who then selfishly stole the fruit. So that’s probably why the Watchtower Society opts for the latter.
This, of course, just leads to more questions, including: where did Satan come from? You might think that God created him, but the Watchtower Society denies this, arguing that “God did not create the Devil. Instead, He created the person who became the Devil.” This is a bit of tortuous logic, akin to me correcting someone who asks if I fathered this sixth-grader by saying, “No, I fathered the infant who became this sixth-grader.” And, anyway, it’s in direct contradiction to the Watchtower’s teaching that God is “the creator of all things.”
But maybe logic isn’t their strong suit. After all, they believe the human race, which is 6,040 years old, suffers and dies because a woman, with no parents or childhood, ate some fruit at the suggestion of a demonic snake.