“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Thursday, 11 February 2021
If I were to situate ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ in the long history of evolution, I would place them among hominid species that have yet to attain rational thought. But this line of thinking is unhelpful since it blurs their role as symbols in a myth of origins with the debate about their ‘factual’ existence.
Once again, I think we need to read this text symbolically. The nakedness described here refers primarily to the state of innocence everyone has before the attainment of wisdom. Sexuality in the narrative is undoubtedly present – the language of wife and help-mate and the unhidden excitement Adam expresses for Eve makes that desire all too clear. But it is a desire that is non-rationalised, untheorised, and dare I say natural – a mix of biology and raw emotion.
So what does nakedness actually mean here? It is a kind of vulnerability of pure simplicity, the naivety of persons who have yet to bump into the harshness of real life and the complexity of a world where good and evil coexist – and each person must develop a certain mental acuity (or wisdom) to negotiate their way to survive.
The idea of shame is contingent upon:
(a) a sense of being part of a social group.
(b) the capacity to negotiate certain social ideas of what is good or bad.
(c)the capacity to imagine (and care about) oneself living discontinuously with social norms.
This raises the question: is this state of primal innocence possible, or even desirable? It may be possible, though probably unlikely, so long as you chose to switch yourself off completely from the world, almost a wilful embrace of ignorance. This is, I believe, undesirable: it seems to diminish what is distinctive about being human.