In his new book, best-selling author Bruce Feiler makes the case that the story of Adam and Eve is the the first love story. He also says Eve has been the victim of major character assassination.
Feiler (@brucefeiler) has a long track record of making the Bible come to life, and he's done it again with "The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us." The author joins Here & Now's Robin Young to discuss the book, a provocative take on a story he says deserves fresh eyes.
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On Eve's “character assassination”
"For me, Robin, as you know, my process begins at the kitchen table. I have a working wife, I have identical twin daughters. And we were just struggling on a daily basis to try to figure out the changing way that men and women are relating to each other. This journey for me began on a visit to the Sistine Chapel, with my daughters looking up at the ceiling and looking at Adam and God and saying, ‘Where am I in this picture?’ I realized that one story, this story, has been at the heart of all these conversations about family and sexuality and gender identity for all these years. When I went back and started looking at it, I realized, we've got the story wrong, that this story was weaponized as a way to elevate men and keep down women. And if we're going to have some meaning from the past and the middle of this conversation, we have to see the story for what it's really saying to us."
On Eve as the first teacher, and an equal to Adam as they leave the Garden of Eden
"What is powerful about this story is when you go back, you realize, we have not really been reading this story. We've been hearing the layers of commentary that organized religion has been putting upon it. When you go back to the story, there are two stories. First of all, the second story, as you know, has Adam being created from the Earth, Eve being created from his body. It's not a rib, it's the side. Eve going off and eating the fruit. It's the fruit of knowledge. You can call it a sin, you can call it discretion, or whatever. But they still stayed together. God blesses them, they have two children. That goes wrong. They have another, and that populates, that child, Seth, goes on to populate the human line. God needs this story to be a success and it is a success.
“But when you go back to the beginning, to the first story in Genesis 1, God creates one human creation, divides it into male and female. The entire story begins with equality. You say jumping to the end. Today, 30 centuries after this story was first written down, as men and women today stand equally before God. That was a hard-earned victory that involved going back and pulling apart the layers of discrimination that were layered onto this story. Going back to the original story, where we can see equality, a see-sawing of power, an equilibrium — that's what the story is trying to say to us."
"I realized that one story, this story, has been at the heart of all these conversations about family and sexuality and gender identity for all these years. When I went back and started looking at it, I realized, we've got the story wrong."Bruce Feiler
On Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who rewrites the story
"I love this story, and it's the story people have quoted most to me from ‘The First Love Story.’ Eve, in many ways, is the primary actor in the story of Adam and Eve. And yet, for the first 28 centuries that people talked about it, only men talked about it publicly. As soon as women began to talk about it in the 19th century, our understanding of the story begins to change. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848, with [Susan B. Anthony], invents the women's rights movement. Basically, Stanton is the brains behind it, but she's got seven kids and a husband who's off. Anthony would come and say ‘I need a speech.’ So, Anthony's the public face. The two of them fight for women's rights and property, in custody, in voting, and they keep hitting a wall. What happens? People say, ‘Well, women can't have property rights because the Bible says Eve is created second.’ Or, ‘Women can't vote because the Bible says that Eve is created from Adam's rib.’
“So Stanton decides that her biggest problem, and if women are ever going to have equality, they have to fight, not politicians, but preachers. And she needs to rewrite the story of Adam and Eve. And she does. In her 70s in 1895, she publishes a book called ‘The Women's Bible’ that goes back to Genesis 1. And she says, ‘Look, here in Genesis 1, our creator has male and female equal. That was the intention.’ The book is a landmark, it's a best-seller, it's a disaster. Essentially the movement that she started gathers in Baltimore, takes a vote and kicks her out. She's one of the most famous women in America, and we don't think of her today because she took on Adam and Eve and got flattened. It was another century, until the second wave of feminism, that we first understood her story and that women finally reclaimed the equality that is at the heart of the story itself."
On Mark Twain's emotional connection with Adam, and why the story of Adam and Eve is relevant today
"The Mark Twain story is amazing. He goes to Jerusalem and discovers Adam and has this emotional connection to his forefathers, he called them. He comes back, he tells the creators of the Statue of Liberty to replace Lady Liberty with Adam. And when his wife dies, he writes the most beautiful passage. He has Adam say of his wife what Twain said of his, ‘Wherever Eve went, there was Eden.’
“This story at every moment in transition for the last 3,000 years, people have gone to find meaning in it. And what I'm saying, why it matters today, is that we're in another moment of transition, in relationships, and gender, and sexuality, and family. Look at the Bible. Who are all the big figures? Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, David, Jesus, Paul — they're all singles. Who is the first couple? It's Adam and Eve. Not Adam. Not Eve. Adam and Eve. And it matters. Today, when relationships have become a commodity, when we have reality television and tabloids, it matters that our first relationship be a success. There is promised love in the Bible, as well as promised land. We need to remember Adam and Eve as the success that they are. They are the first love story."
Book Excerpt: 'The First Love Story'
By Bruce Feiler
Excerpted from the book THE FIRST LOVE STORY by Bruce Feiler. Copyright © 2017 by Bruce Feiler. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Press.
This segment aired on April 7, 2017.
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