For the introduction to this brief series, see Kidding With Adam and Eve: An Introduction
“Contemplate a little, if agreeable to you, the divine beneficence. The first man, when in Paradise, sported free, because he was the child of God; but when he succumbed to pleasure (for the serpent allegorically signifies pleasure crawling on its belly, earthly wickedness nourished for fuel to the flames), was as a child seduced by lusts, and grew old in disobedience; and by disobeying his Father, dishonoured God. Such was the influence of pleasure. Man, that had been free by reason of simplicity, was found fettered to sins.”
– Clement of Alexandria, Sermon To The Greeks, Chapter 11
Traditionally, Adam and Eve have been received in the Church as having been grown, mature adults on their honeymoon in the Garden of Eden. This reception history in the United States has become politicized on the left and the right for the sake of the culture wars. Conservatives use Adam and Eve promoting the Christian ideal of marriage, while liberals continue to work for the primary concerns of adults (education reforms come to mind) to the neglect of children. Both positions marginalize the subjectivity of children and they also ignore an earlier tradition in the early church that interpreted Adam and Eve as children.
A few reasons why the “Adam and Eve as immature trope” is important theologically. First, in the case of today, which we find with Clement, and later this week, with Irenaeus, holding the view that Adam and Eve were little kids when they started the fall into sin for humanity is a defense of God’s goodness and perfection. Greek philosophical readings of Genesis LXX were popular in Clement’s day, and these readings understood phrases such as “God made them good–them being humanity” as God making human beings perfect and mature. This, according to the logic of Clement, was just not a healthy view. God has given humanity free will, and since we are equipped with such a weapon, there is space for growth. No created being is made whole or perfect. If this were the case, God is fully to blame for the fall, for evil. That is the way that both atheist and Calvinist theodicies end up agreeing with each other.
Yet, if Adam and Eve are children, immature, but perfect in that they have free will, as Clement argues, the responsibility for the fall lies squarely on humanity’s infantile shoulders. In Clement’s view, from the quote I took from “Sermon to the Greeks,” Adam initiated the fall because he wanted to wear pants that were to big for him, his Daddy’s pants. Not to take Clement’s argument out of context, for the first several chapters of Sermons/Exhortations, Clement uses a combination of sarcasm, shaming, Scripture, and a vast knowledge of Greek myths to argue how cruel and sexually immoral the Greco-Roman divinities and legends are. Rather than leave his argument as a complete dismantling of the imperial civil religion of his day, he wrote about the omnibenevolence of the Triune God of Judaism and Christianity.
As for the role of Eve, Clement presents a two-fold approach. First, he levies his familiarity of the Hebrew language to attack the cult of Dionysus, who butcher their orgy victims as the victims scream out, “Eva!” Hevia, similar to the word Eve, is also the Hebrew word, as Clement points out, for “serpent.” The bacchanals make the unholy holy, by desecrating women’s bodies (Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 1). Clement wonders aloud, “why is it the gods and not the goddesses that are so immoral?” The second part of Clement’s approach is to separate the image of Eve as a sex symbol to that of an ideal student. Adam represents the Jewish prophetic tradition (from Adam to Moses to the judges to Jeremiah to Jesus), while Eve is a type of learning community (Israel/Church).
“But among the Hebrews the prophets were moved by the power and inspiration of God. Before the law, Adam spoke prophetically in respect to the woman, and the naming of the creatures; Noah preached repentance;  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave many clear utterances respecting future and present things. Contemporaneous with the law, Moses and Aaron; and after these prophesied Jesus the son of Nave, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Achias, Samæas, Jehu, Elias, Michæas, Abdiu, Elisæus, Abbadonai, Amos, Esaias, Osee, Jonas, Joel, Jeremias, Sophonias the son of Buzi, Ezekiel, Urias, Ambacum, Naum, Daniel, Misael, who wrote the syllogisms, Aggai, Zacharias, and the angel among the twelve. These are, in all, five-and-thirty prophets. And of women (for these too prophesied), Sara, and Rebecca, and Mariam, and Debbora, and Olda, i.e., Huldah.”
-Clement Of Alexandria, The Stromateis/(my translation: The Weavings), Book 1, Chapter 21
Now notice, that Eve does not exist just to give Adam a plaything. Eve learns the names of the creatures that Adam taught. She is meant to be a rational being just like Adam. The role of the prophet was not limited to males. Clement, again knowledgeable in Hebrew and Greek LXX, recognized Huldah, Miriam, Sara, Rebecca, and Deborah as prophets of YHWH.
There remains a tricky problem with Clement’s reading of Adam and Eve as children. That is, he doesn’t address what Scripture meant by Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed at the conclusion of Genesis 2. Some will just say well, Clement is just a theologian, and theologians ruin everything! No,not necessarily. I think we need to consider Clement’s context, that he was trying to defend the goodness of YHWH in the midst of a sex-obessessed major city (Alexandria) occupied by the world’s largest empire (Rome). Clement’s interpretation is a reasonable alternative in the creation of a counter-narrative against the colonizing mythologies of Greco-Roman religion.
In the next part of this series, I shall turn to Irenaeus of Lyons, and his use of Adam and Eve as children.
- Kidding With Adam And Eve: A Brief Series on Re-Thinking Genesis 3: Introduction (politicaljesus.com)
- On Alexandrian Christianity: A Few Principles (politicaljesus.com)
- Re-Reading Clement of Alexandria (politicaljesus.com)
- Feast of Clement of Alexandria (emmanuelchatham.typepad.com)