Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden... Sing Heav'nly Muse
When I arrived at the farm last night there was no one there, so I wandered around. I was puzzled by one large room, sparsely furnished, with two outside doors, both left ajar. I noticed a swallow's nest on the ceiling. Later, I learned that the farmer and his wife leave that room open for a pair of swallows that come back each year. "We must look after the animals," he said. Apparently swallows are disappearing from the area.
I met an interesting Canadian as well, Boris. He and his assistant were repairing the roof of a nearby church. I don't think I have ever heard anyone speak so passionately about his job. He had an interesting background. Born in Montreal, he had worked in construction in Canada and in Louisiana, before moving to France to study for three years with what seemed to been the equivalent of a medieval guild that taught the restoration of historical monuments. His specialization was roofs, and he is now a foreman in a company that is hired by the state to repair historic buildings. He will never be out of a job.
At the end of a day's work, he said, he can look at what he has done and feel that he has accomplished something. He showed me pictures of some of the roofs he has restored. He will be working on a church in Dax when I pass through, so perhaps I will see him again.
I walked along the highway into Mirambeau against the traffic. A huge truck whipped off my Tilley hat and pulled it along in the slipstream. For a moment I was afraid it would lodge somewhere on top of the truck and be gone forever, but it finally settled in the ditch.
I popped into a bar for a coffee. I was greeted warmly, and one kind gentleman, Jean, wanted to talk about the Camino and insisted on paying for my coffee.
I headed out of town onto the minor country roads. A green tractor rumbled up a hill towards me, belching forth black smoke. I held my breath as long as I could to avoid breathing in the pungent fumes. Then an old lady and her dog waited for me at a gate. She gave me a red rose and some kind of white flowering onion. I promised I would attach them to my pack.
You will have noticed that I tend to harp on certain themes. One of them is the ripple effect of those Wordsworthian "little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love". Another is religion.
I thought again about the piece I had read a couple of days ago.
This piece alluded to the story of Adam and Eve , which has been interpreted as justifying the oppression of women by holding Eve responsible for the introduction of evil into the world.
According to the orthodox interpretation, which Milton follows in Paradise Lost, Man is cast out of paradise because of Adam and Eve's disobedience in eating the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Message? Obey God, or else! And because it was Eve who instigated it, she bears the blame.
But this is a very strange reading, even for a male priesthood that might want to portray woman as a tempter and reinforce obedience to God, and of course, to God's priests.
First, Adam comes across as such a wimp. "She made me do it," he says.
Second, Eve appears the stronger character in taking the lead in this pursuit of knowledge of good and evil.
Third, God appears petty and malevolent in punishing man for what he was obviously created to do. Who would want to worship a God who punishes man for exercising his God-given reason?
Fourth, was man expected to live in blissful ignorance forever?
The orthodox interpretation is such a foolish one. How could man be condemned for seeking knowledge? Intellectual inquiry is such an important part of the Jewish and Christian faiths. One of the important aspects of Christianity is the need for man to have the choice between good and evil. Even Milton, that staunch Puritan, insisted that no books should be banned, for the Christian soul must be exposed to evil so that he can make that choice.
Biblical scholars have demonstrated that the Old Testament has been rewritten at least three times, as different waves of priests revised it to reflect their current beliefs and reinforce their authority. Sometimes these revisions didn't completely erase the earlier version, and little inconsistencies remain. If the latest wave of priests had wanted to demonstrate the consequences of doing something bad, for which the punishment would be justified, they shouldn't have left the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the story.
I prefer to see Eve as representing man's intellectual curiosity, insisting on eating the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because it will "make one wise". And perhaps the serpent who tempts Eve is really a symbol of the Greek principle, Seek Knowledge.
It is strange, though, how the idea persists that ignorance is somehow preferable to knowledge. Perhaps some of you remember some of the sayings we got from our elders. "Curiosity killed the cat" or "What you don't know won't hurt you" or the ungrammatical "Don't ask no questions and you won't get no lies. These belong in the same category as that other classic from a couple of generations ago: "Stop crying, or I'll give you something to cry about!"
My point is, however, that there is nothing sexist in this piece of scripture, just in the interpretation of it by certain men over the ages. In fact, it is a myth which feminists should celebrate, because Woman, not Man, is the superior character. And it's a very important myth, because it reveals the truth that man will seek knowledge for the betterment of mankind and our planet, or our destruction.
Je suis un homme de certain age. That means I have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. Ideally, I will have one in my room, but the facilities in gites are often far from ideal. I am thankful if the loo is on the same floor. However, in some of them the dorm is up top and the toilet down below, accessible only by a narrow, circular staircase. It is even worse when you are in the top bunk. Once I walked ten kilometres to avoid the top bunk. Tonight, at this chambre d'hôtes, the toilet is on the other side of a large house, four doors, two rooms and one corridor away. I will try not to drink too much wine tonight.