2. Review of Previous Work on Methodologies and Themes

In the following, three different approaches used in study of Pentateuch will be introduced first. It helps to give some basic concepts for a better understanding of opinions on methodologies and themes of the story. Secondly, the customary understanding of ‘original sin’ will be introduced. There will be a special emphasis on how this idea is developed into a dogmatic teaching and contemporary scholars holding ‘sin’ with the story. Thirdly, there is a group of scholars objecting the theme ‘original sin’ or ‘sin’. They emphasize that there is a limitation of man and the transgression of that limit will only bring existentialism problems. Fourthly, there are some scholars arguing that the ‘fall’ is not necessarily a ‘down’ from a better status. They consider that the violation is a process of human maturation. Thus, it should be considered as a ‘fall’ ‘upward’ rather than ‘down’. Finally, there is an alternative interesting suggestion of ‘losing the chance of gaining the eternal life’. It will be introduced as well.

There are three remarks. Firstly, the scholars’ biblical studies are reviewed mainly. Their related theological work will not be discussed in details. Secondly, it seems that the scholars may not use the term ‘theme’ in the strict sense defined above. They may only use the words like ‘thrust’ or ‘main concern’ in the discussion of the main theme of the story. Thus, the word ‘theme’ used in the following reviews should only be understood in a loose sense. Finally, it should be admitted that there are numerous studies related to this research topic and it is impossible to introduce all of them. However, the main suggestions of leading scholars are included.

2.1 Previous Studies on Methodologies

Three methodologies related to the studies of the Pentateuch will be introduced. It includes the study of sources, comparative study and literary study.

In the nineteenth century, the study of the source of the Pentateuch is the main thrust. It includes the documentary hypothesis (source criticism) proposed by Wellhausen and the development of tradition (form criticism) proposed by Gunkel. The main focus of their studies is ‘historical’ and related theological development of the Pentateuch.

In the twentieth century, there is a growing emphasis on lexical and thematic comparison between the Biblical text and the Ancient Near Eastern literature. Such studies are assets to identify the historical and cultural context of the Pentateuch.

There is a growing popularity of adopting the literary study in the recent studies. The structure of the text, literary styles, meaning of words and phrases are studied in order to identify the original meaning of the text. This study method has the character of showing the cohesiveness and unity of the text rather then breaking down the text when comparing with the study of the sources. The study of structure and the theme studies can be grouped in this study method. The studies of structure will be adopted in chapter three under the exegesis. Meanwhile, the themes suggested in the theme studies are listed below:

  1. sin-speech-mitigation-punishment
  2. spreading of sin simultaneously the grace
  3. creation-uncreation- recreation
  4. ‘separation’ and the result of ‘changing status of man’

Although there are significant differences among the suggested themes, there is a shared component in them. It is the troublesome relationship between God and human.

Bearing the basic concepts of methodology, it will be more convenient to understand the following reviews on methodology and theme.

2.2 Original Sin / Sin

In the following, the development of the dogmatic teaching of ‘original sin’ will be introduced. Then, scholars suggesting the main theme of the story associated with sin will be introduced. The differences between the ‘original sin’ and ‘sin’ are needed to be distinguished. Original sin implies that the human is under the influence of it and has no choice of not committing sin while sin implies that human still has the right to choose.

It is reported that there is no such teaching of original sin or fall in the Old Testament but only in the late tradition of Judaism. It can be revealed from the writing of the apocrypha:

Woman is the origin of sin,

and it is through her that we all die.

O Adam, what have you done?

For though it was you who sinned,

the Fall was not yours alone,

but ours also who are your descendants.

In the second quotation, it is interpreted that sin is passed from Adam to all his descendants. Then, Paul may be influenced during his development of theology resulting the development of the doctrine of original sin and fall.

In the fourth century, one of the most important Christian teachers, St. Augustine states that Adam’s sin has inflected all the humankind. Human nature has changed to a status that there is no capacity of not committing sin. It can be reflected from his writing:

God created man upright; but man, being of his own will corrupt, and justly condemned, begot corrupted and condemned children. For we all in that one man, since we all were that one man who fell into sin by the woman who was made from him before sin….

Augstine may be the first one who introduces the concept of ‘original sin’ in ‘foresenic way’ to the Christianity community. This kind of belief is further reinforced in the Council of Trent:

The Council of Trent defined (with the Reformers) a real original sin in all (except Mary), which is caused by Adam’s sin, is really effaced by justification…

Then, this doctrine continues the influences on the Reformed and Lutheran theologies. Some contemporary scholars stand that the story is associated with sin although it is not related to the original sin. For example, the work of Gordon J. Wenham and P.C.Kwong.

Wenham suggests that the story is a ‘paradigm of sin’ including the elements of disobedience to the divine command and the consequence afterward. He also argues that it is one of the tradition in the Old Testament like the ‘the offer of life and death’ (Deuteronomy 30:15~19). Meanwhile, Kwong adopts sin as the frame of reference in his division of the story.

After a quick survey of the development of the dogmatic teaching of the ‘original sin’ and ‘sin’, the weakness of this teaching should be noted. One of the commonly suggested weaknesses of this understanding is that no one need to be responsible for the sin as it is one’s nature to do so. It is admitted that the problem of ‘original sin’ cannot be concluded in this short discussion. However, it is enough to know that the interpretation of the story may be affected with the dogmatic teaching of original sin or sin while the story may not bear such meaning. In other words, the interpretation of the story is conducted as a ‘theological’ exposition that may overload the original meaning of the story. On the other hand, the innovating suggestion by Wenham should be commented. Instead of associating the story with sin, he suggests that this is a paradigm of sin. It can help to study the similar narration in the Bible. However, it seems that the suggestion may be a description of the development of the plot of the story, but cannot be considered as a theme in a strict sense that is defined in section 1.2.

2.3 Human Limitation / Existentialism Problems

Four different scholars will be reviewed. Gerhad von Rad, Hermann Gunkel and ClausWestermann are well recognized as the crucial commentators; thus, their work must be reviewed. Moreover Walter Brueggemann’s work is reviewed as well because it always gives us stimulating and insightful suggestions.

Basically, the basic holding of scholars is that the original sin or sin should not be considered as the main theme of the story. Meanwhile, the theme of human limitation or existentialism problems may be a more appropriate one. In the following, their methodology used and the holding of the theme will be introduced.

2.3.1 Gerhad von Rad

In von Rad’s commentary, he adopts the literary approach mainly to identify the main theme of the story.

Regarding the approach for the interpretation, von Rad brings us two suggestions. Firstly, he suggests that the passage should be considered as a complex unity in the interpretation process in spite of the possible contradictions and disharmony of the passages. Secondly, he further states that the narrative of the studied passage should be a ‘story’. It does not only report the event actuality, but also contains the dialectical element. It implies that the interpretation process is not a static one, but a dynamic one. It also gives us an insight that there are some messages ‘concealed’ in the passage, the ‘concealed’ message can be found out through our interaction with what has spoken in this dynamic interpretation process. Thus, more than the theological thought of the original state and the fall are shared in the story.

Von Rad suggests that the main theme of the story should be the situation of human after the violation. He reports that the writing style of the passage before the ‘fall’ is described as ‘passive and indirect’. The man, the serpent and the paradise are only created and described passively. However, the author describes the shame, fear and dissoances of the man directly. Thus, it is expected that the author used this technique to highlight the main theme on the second half of the passage which is the situation after the violation. It is the human limitation or ‘reality’ that human needed to be faced after the violation. On the other hand, he argues that the suggested theme of ‘fall’ which is not comprehensive for the story. It is because the vast content of the whole story cannot be covered by this theme of ‘fall’.

In my opinion, there are two contributions from von Rad to this study. Firstly, the dynamic interpretation process and readers’ involvement are once again mentioned. Thus, the role of readers should not be overlooked. It can be used to affirm the criterion two of identifying a theme mentioned in section 1.2. Secondly, he may be one of the pioneers adopting the literary study. Thus, the value of literary study has been recognized a long time before.

2.3.2 Hermann Gunkel

Gunkel adopts the literary approach and the studies of custom in order to identify the theme that is related to human limitation.

Gunkel’s methodology illustrates his special interest in literary study. He shares some literary skills that should be noted during exegesis. He states that the storyteller in the Genesis seldom describes inner thoughts and moods but only the outer actions when compared with contemporary writers. Instead of describing inner thoughts directly, such attributes are expressed in actions. For example, the thoughts of Adam and Eve during the violation are not described but only the action of getting the fruit. However, the actions are carefully selected that can be a symbol of the inner thoughts of the characters. For example, the innocence and awareness is symbolized by their nakedness and clothing.

Gunkel stands that this story is not related to customary understanding of ‘fall’ but the ‘transgression of the human barrier’. He constructs this argument with the consideration of literary and the accepted custom understanding. Regarding the consideration of literary, the focus of a narration should be placed at the end of it. Thus, the main point should be the emphasis of expulsion from the garden. Regarding the consideration of the accepted custom understanding, it is believed that there is a good relationship between the master and servant, but the servant could not take the equal status with the master. Similarly, human should bear an attitude of not exceeding his limit but only fear God and in a good relationship with God.

In my opinion, Gunkel’s observation related to the literary study is a little more advanced than von Rad’s one. He gives us an example of how the literary study can be adopted appropriately.

2.3.3 Claus Westermann

In Westermann’s work, he has contributed to highlight the weaknesses of the traditional Christian understanding of ‘fall’. Meanwhile, he states that the main concern of the passage is the existential problems of human through an observation of the structure of the story (literary study).

Westermann brings two arguments against the customary understanding of the story which is mainly related to fall and cause of sin. Firstly, he mentions that the meaning of fall may imply the passive and fateful situation of man. In other words, it implies that Adam and Eve fall from a better status to a lower one. The better status or the higher status may imply that the original status is sinless. However, there may be no such teaching in the Old Testament. Secondly, if the causes of the sin and fall are the main concern, the narration can be ended with sentences of the guilt. However, the narration is not ended but it is continued with the ‘another’ living of Adam and Eve, which is ‘alienated’ from God.

Westermann considers that the theme should be about "a person’s state as creature is seen together with one’s limitation through fallibility, suffering, toil and death" that is the existential question of the humankind". It is deducted through the observation of the structure that another living of the human pair begins at the end of the story and they need to face the existentialism problems.

In my opinion, Westarmann helps us to note the existentialism problems of the human pair. However, there may be a problem of his understanding of human’s prior status. The prior status of human is not certain, but it is still a good guess that the status is better than the one after the violation. Therefore, the concept of fall from certain status can also be employed to certain senses.

2.3.4 Walter Bruggemann

Bruggemann brings the role of readers in the interpretation process. Then, he argues against the customary understanding of fall, origin of sin and death. At the end, he suggests the main theme in his commentary.

‘Listening community’ is mentioned in his commentary and should not be overlooked. He suggests that interpretations by expositors are not the authority, but readers should have the same involvement as expositors to listen and being impacted by the text. In other words, Bruggemann has a special interest in the meaning received by readers/ listeners.

Bruggemann argues that there is no concept of the fall that human has no ability to make a right decision. If there is such a concept of ‘fall’, it will be meaningless for the command in Deuternomy30:11~14. Regarding the issue of the origin, he states that the authors in the Old Testament have no interest in such problems but only the existential problems liked the faithful responses and effective coping. Regarding the issue of death, he argues that ‘death’ may not be the concern in the passage as there is no elaboration of ‘death’ issue, but only the problems of the troubled and anxiety- ridden life.

In accordance with the main theme of passage, Bruggemann states again that it is left for readers and it is not explained by the original author as well. However, he has some suggestions including the changes of the relationship between God and man (vertical dimension) and the relationship among the people and the environment (horizontal dimension). Moreover, the troublesome and anxiety-ridden life after the violation may be the concern as well.

Bruggemann has the contributions of bringing the attention of the role of readers in the interpretation process. Moreover, besides the existential problems that are mentioned by other commentators, he draws our attention to the changes of relationship in the vertical and horizontal dimensions.

2.4 Human Maturation: Falling ‘Up’ rather than ‘Down’

There are some scholars including Irenaeus, Dragga and Kushner at least, arguing that this is a story of human maturation. Although there is cost that mankind is alienated from God, mankind gains some positive characters.

In fact, this ‘positive’ understating of the story is begun since the Church father period of Irenaeus. The process of the violation only brought the progress of maturation. In other words, it is a fall ‘upwardly’ rather than ‘down’. It is expected that it is quite normal and healthy for a life with pain and suffering. It is even suggested that a life without suffering is another form of death.

Dragga suggests that there should be a new perspective in the interpretation of the story. The human pair is not being expulsed from a superior garden, but is ‘set free’ and ‘liberated’ from it. The human pair is liberated from timid dependence in the garden to a real human being of responsibility, aggressive and maturity.

Kushner argues that there is no such ‘punishment’ after the violation but just God let human to be human but not the animals. Human need to make choice, work hard and prepare for the death. Animals do not have such experience. Kshner try to associate the consequence of the violation with a positive sense that man has the self-conscious after the violation.

In my opinion, the argument may be weak. This theme is only deduced from imagination but evidence is hardly found from the text of the story (please compare with the criterion one in section 1.2). It is because what human ‘gained’ are only shame, anxiety and loneliness. It is very hard to say that the author wants to deliverer a message of maturation as a theme.

2.5 Losing the Chance of Life

Barr’s suggestion in his book The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality brings an alternative theme of how human ‘nearly’ gains the immorality but lose it in the end.

Barr has conducted a comprehensive survey to get the support to reject the issue of sin, death and original state of man considered as the theme of the story. However, his arguments may be relatively weak when compared with the scholars mentioned in previous section. It will not be further discussed here.

After rejecting the possible themes, he suggests that it is quite natural for man to die and it should not be considered as punishment. Furthermore, he suggests that human can access the tree of life and gain the eternal life. However, they lose the chance as they are expelled from the Garden.

In my opinion, James Barr does help us to see the problem in other way round. However, it seems that his argument is not convincing enough. It should be noted that the theme of nearly gaining the eternal life but finally losing is commonly found in the Ancient Near Eastern text and this may be a good guess that the Biblical text may have similar idea. However, it should be noted that the Bible always has some breakthrough from the ideas of the Ancient Near customs. In fact, it seems that the seeking of life may not be the key desire of human. They are tempted to get the fruit in order to gain the wisdom but not the life. Therefore, the theme suggested by Barr may need further studies.

2.6 Discussion: Problems of Methodologies and Themes

The variety of the different opinions of the scholars can be summarized as the following chart:



Methodology Suggested

(if applicable)

Theme Suggested

Sources Information provided

Involves Literary studies

Dynamic process

Involves of the role of readers

Focus on the second half of the story

Mention of the passage in Deut. 30

Original Sin/ Sin

Not on the original sin/ fall

Human limitation

Existentialism Problem

Changing Relationship

‘Positive’ understanding

Lost the chance of gaining the life

Original Sin/ Sin











































Human Limitation

von Rad
























































Human Maturation











































Losing the Chance of Life




(Remark: The order of the list of the scholars is arranged in the order they presented in this paper .

ü ’ means that the scholar is in line with that item.)

From the above table, it should be noted that the complexity of the problems of the methodologies and suggested themes proposed by different scholars. However, some concluding observations can be made.

Firstly, the understanding of the story is not limited to dogmatic teaching of original sin or sin only, but there are various understandings of it. Secondly, the role of readers in the interpretation process should not be overlooked (suggested by von Rad and Brugemann). Thirdly, it seems that the suggesting themes with original sin or sin, human maturation and losing the chance of life are deduced with a pre-loaded mind with other frames of references. Thus, there may be some over-loadings of the original theme of the story in those interpretation process. Fourthly, the sources of the Pentateuch are mentioned in the work of von Rad, Gunkel and Westermann, but they use the literary study to identify the main theme of the story mainly. Finally, the theme of human limitation or existentialism problems is identified if the literary study is adopted. It seems that the literary study is one of the most accepted methods for identifying the theme of the story. Before making the decision what methodology is used in this paper, the three mentioned methodologies will be commented.

In accordance with the study of the source of the Pentateuch, it helps to identify the historical development of the text. However, it is agreed that there are inadequacies in theological presuppositions and approaches to the documentary hypothesis. Moreover, it is even suggested that the hypothesis should be abandoned. The recently researches also bring the bankrupt of the form criticism. However, the form criticism can give some meaningful results if it can be used under some guidelines. The basic thrust of the guidelines is that no imagination and guess of the formation of the text should be made without adequate objective evidence. Although this study method has the value to certain senses, there are too many problems behind the study method and most scholars do not use it as a main tool in identifying the theme, it will not be adopted in this study.

Referring to the comparative study, it can be used as reference to have a better understanding of the original meaning of the story in that particular context. However, it should be noted that the author of the Bible may always have a breakthrough or an alternative view of the theological concept among the Ancient Near East text (see the discussion in section 2.5). Thus, the unique ‘theme’ of the story may not be determined solely through this comparison. Therefore, this approach will only be used as accessory only in the exegesis of this paper.

In according to the literary study, it seems that it may be the most appropriate one for this study. The original meaning intended by the author is revealed through the studies of the narration. This method is relatively objective and ahistorical. It can help to interpret the text with least pre-understanding of the text. Secondly, it can compromise the criteria for identifying the main theme mentioned in section 1.2. It meets criterion one of deriving the theme from the text. The criterion two states that readers should be involved in identifying the theme; thus, the literary skills the author used for involving the readers’ attention should not be overlooked. In order to achieve the requirement of the criterion three, the identified theme can be tried to fit into a boarder context of Genesis and Pentateuch to see if there is any conflict with them. These strengths may explain why so many scholars use it as a tool for identifying the main theme. To be a early conclusion, this approach is more appropriate in this study when comparing with the other two. On the other hand, the previous work of theme studies concluding different themes related to the troublesome relationship between God and human has lain some previous findings for this study.

It should be stated clearly that one approach is allowed only for an in-depth discussion in this paper due to the limited space, but it does not imply that the studies of the source (historical) and literary study (ahistorical) are in the two extremely. In fact, it should be noted that they can use together in harmony.

The object of the exegesis with literary study should be identified before moving on. In this study, the final form of the text is used. There are three reasons. Firstly, it has been mentioned that the ‘hypothesis’ of the formation of the Pentateuch is not used as a main tool in identifying the main theme of the story. Thus, the related complex breakdown of the text is not necessary. It fact, it will only limit our interpretation of the text according to the proposed sources. As a result, the meaning of the text in a holistic view will be overlooked. Secondly, it should be noted that it is commonly agreed that the study of the final form of the Pentateuch is adequate to identify the meaning intended by the final redactor. Moreover, it is assumed that the theological implications of the final form should not be poorer than the previous developed one. Finally, it is reported that the story of Adam and Eve is a literary unit. Thus, it is valid to study the final form solely.

2.7 Conclusion

Three basic methodologies including the study of the source, comparative study and literary study are introduced first in order to facilitate the understanding of reviews of previous scholars’ work on methodologies and themes. The reviews are grouped in four groups: original sin or sin, human limitation or existentialism problems, human maturation and losing chance of gaining life. It is early concluded that literary study is commonly used as a main tool for identifying the main theme by the scholars. It has the distinct advantages of minimizing the involvement of the pre-understanding of the text and meeting the three criteria of identifying a theme stated in section 1.2. Due to the limited space for an in-depth discussion, the literary study, being considered as the most appropriate one for this study, will only be adopted in the exegesis. Meanwhile, the final form of the text will be used for the exegesis.

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