Neither the Hebrew version nor the Sumerian original seem to have carried any suggestion that there would some day come a second Adam who would restore immortality to the human race, and Mr. Greenblatt confines to an endnote St. Paul’s idea of Christ as the second Adam. He devotes more space to the reinterpretation of Pauline theology by Augustine, whom in his portrayal originally saw the story as an embarrassingly primitive fable but in time made it central to his sophisticated conception of original sin and ultimate redemption. Mr. Greenblatt is especially eloquent on the influence of this story on the early modern imagination ... he begins his survey by stating that 'an insistence on the story’s literal truth—an actual Adam and Eve in an actual garden—became one of the cornerstones of Christian orthodoxy.' Very many, perhaps a majority, would nowadays agree with Mr. Greenblatt, but I am not convinced ... The richness of the Adam and Eve story is, in our own day, set against the story created by Darwin of the evolved ape. Both are powerful images in our brains, and most educated people believe, or try to believe, in the latter. What Mr. Greenblatt’s wonderfully rich, detailed, humorous and imaginative survey reveals is the sheer wealth of the biblical mythology and how it continues to raise questions that Darwinism doesn’t answer.
The best works of cultural history aren’t those that provoke a mere nod of assent, the sense that history was just so. Rather, they’re books that adrenalize and agitate, provoke a response, cause you to underline, argue, and curse. By this standard, Stephen Greenblatt’s The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is a good book indeed ... This book is frequently very good, as when Greenblatt examines Renaissance depictions of Eden ... Yet there are also stretches that had me sometimes literally shaking my fist — the long section on Augustine, in particular. All Christian theology is a footnote to Augustine, and Greenblatt rightly emphasizes the theologian’s centrality to later Christian thought on will and desire, human fallenness and divine mercy. Less convincingly, Greenblatt interprets Augustine’s theology as a working out of the guilt he felt over sexual desire ... All critics have biases. Greenblatt’s is a tendency to see all of history pointing toward, and finding its ultimate fulfillment in, Renaissance humanism ... Arguing with Greenblatt about these ideas is a pleasure, though, as is his clear prose and the fluidity with which he moves between paintings and poems and polemics. This is the kind of book — lucid and delightfully infuriating — that I wish more academic superstars would write.
Greenblatt, a Shakespeare scholar of vast, ranging intelligence, likes his superlatives. His treatment of thousands of years of thought on the first parents in Genesis, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, supports many of them. He is ambitious. He begins with the Babylonians and ends with Darwin, with stops for Augustine, Dürer, Milton and others, looking at how each changed the way we understand Adam and Eve. But Greenblatt isn’t just eager to convince you that his topic is a worthy choice. Each subsequent point of consideration must also be hyped like an act at the circus. The effect is a nagging feeling that you’re being sold something ... About 1 in 4 Americans consider the Bible to be the literal word of God, according to a recent Gallup poll, but Greenblatt doesn’t speak to any of them, or wonder who they might be, and how they feel about Adam and Eve. A certain condescension, too, is apparent in the over-lavish way he tries to write for a general audience ... In many of his other works, Greenblatt’s scholarly voice is precise and distinctive, and he has a rare interdisciplinary instinct. He can be warm, intimate and learned; his writing on Shakespeare in particular manages to be both emotionally astute and encyclopedic. But in this work, perhaps some of his biases have intervened. He also tries too hard to be what he is already — very naturally — in his scholarship: accessible.
...thoughtfully readable and deeply erudite, a book steeped in humanity and in the unending efforts of humans to figure out who they are and why their lives are filled with pain, struggle and death … Greenblatt asserts that the Adam and Eve story, far from fading from the world culture, has vital importance today. In its seeming simplicity, it expresses core human issues and remains ‘a powerful, even indispensable, way to think about innocence, temptation, and moral choice, about cleaving to a beloved partner, about work and sex and death.’
...a gripping story about storytelling, a tale spun by the fortunes of one of the greatest stories ever told ...'Where do I (or "we") come from?' Because of its singularly powerful response to that question, the story of Adam and Eve remains an indispensable narrative achievement, crucial to understanding not only storytelling itself, but also the realities of 'human responsibility and human vulnerability' on which the story touches ... That Greenblatt is himself an extraordinary storyteller will come as a surprise to no one familiar with his books ...by telling us the story of the rise and fall of Adam and Eve, Greenblatt wants to regale us not with the tale of Adam and Eve, but with the story of the story of Adam and Eve, the rise and fall of our need for the tale itself ... The trajectory of his book bends toward seeing Adam and Eve not as a divinely revealed moral lesson, but as an ongoing attempt to make sense of reality, tumbling into the modern natural and human sciences.
His argument might not sit well with those who hold to the story's literal truth, but it's an important observation about how deeply rooted misogyny is, and has been for centuries. Greenblatt's history of the story is engaging because of the twists and turns he takes. He writes about the Pre-Adamites, who believed that Adam and Eve existed but weren't actually the first humans. He meditates beautifully on the art that the myth has inspired...And he considers the influence of Paradise Lost, John Milton's epic poem about the Creation of Man ... The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is almost dizzying in its scope; Greenblatt draws from history, religion, art and science, and he writes about all of these fields with infectious enthusiasm. It's a strikingly intelligent book, but it's also accessible; he's a clear, unpretentious writer who can hardly hide his fascination with the subject.
Greenblatt leaves the reader in no doubt that science has won the intellectual debate. He is an Enlightenment realist: the steady accumulation of philological, anthropological, biological and geological knowledge has made the Genesis story no longer tenable, except as a story ... The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is undoubtedly what scholars used to call a 'whiggish' book: a study of western disenchantment, of intellectual progress, of the fading powers of the myths of a simpler age. But it is a more complex study than that. It is also an ode to human creativity and to the powerful grip of narrative.
Greenblatt never seems to consider why the myth might have felt so true to those who found their religious and humanist values affirmed by it — and their own deepest intuitions, which science has partly borne out ... Greenblatt respects his subject, and still he assumes that the rationalist reading offers up the true meaning of the story ... An awareness of the religious movement that Milton identified with and championed would have also helped Greenblatt in his parsing of the poet’s views on marriage. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is an ambitious attempt at an important cultural history. It is cursory, and, to the degree that its treatment of these influential texts and movements is uninformed, it is not a help in understanding them.
Greenblatt follows the story of Adam and Eve through theology, literature, art, biology, and even an excursus into paleontology, with a wistful eye for the counterfactual. He reviews the metamorphoses of scripture’s reception from God’s immutable word to fantastic myth (though not for all, of course) and makes a case for its force when read as imaginative literature … Greenblatt’s most persuasive and passionate argument considers the interactions between Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh. He argues that the creators of the Genesis story, who would have come to know Babylonian cosmology during the Hebrews’ long captivity in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, told their own story of the beginning in dialogic dispute with their masters … After the powerful opening chapters, the end feels wavering. The rise in religious beliefs, in the classroom and throughout the political spectrum, has made analyzing interactions between doctrine and ideology, make-believe and literature, a far more sensitive undertaking.
In Stephen Greenblatt’s powerful and capacious group biography, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, two personalities dominate the centuries of exegesis on Adam’s and Eve’s rise and fall. St. Augustine and John Milton are towering figures that dominate the period up to Darwin … Greenblatt shows that Augustine and Milton, two of Christendom’s greatest writers, engaged in a brilliant holding action that allayed, if it did not quash, the qualms among the faithful … To this day, of course, the Adam and Eve story, and the Bible itself, has remained the literal truth for many worshipers. Why? The moral power of the story, Greenblatt supposes, continues to buoy believers who wish to see a divine purpose in nature and in the lives of men and women.
He offers no new dramatic insight here but presents the information clearly and lucidly. Greenblatt dips into this arena, I believe, because he wants us to see that history almost accidentally favored the Hebrew Bible, and that there were other traditions that did not win out … While the material is well told, there is not much that is new in The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. The writing has on occasion a slightly portentous tone to it, almost as if it were a teleplay for a PBS version of Adam and Eve through Western culture.
...[an] enthralling, thrilling book ... Along the way, there is an often hilarious account of scholastic efforts to rationalise the myth’s illogic, and an array of entertaining heresies ... What gives Greenblatt’s 'intellectual adventure' its tension and excitement is a sense of his own divided loyalties...He is torn, as Milton and Darwin were, between respect for clear-eyed knowledge and reverence for the grand fabulations with which we redesign the messy, cheerless world ... The journey is not only cerebral. Greenblatt is right to call his project an adventure, because it takes him from an ethnological museum at Harvard, where he inspects the skeletal remains of our remotest simian forebears, to the desert south of Tehran where he visits a replica of Eden.
As Stephen Greenblatt argues in his richly woven new book, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, it is a story that’s so compelling that once we hear it, it feels impossible to forget. But the fact that we all recognize the outlines of this odd origin myth doesn’t make it any less strange … In short, this is a book of stories about a story, stories that help us see the way a story is a river that also takes on the shapes of what it flows by, even when it eventually encounters such formidable challengers as Darwin. Or, to float another metaphor, it’s a book that reminded me of the Hebrew Bible’s concept of Midrash, where interpretive stories enclose and nest and build upon biblical stories, so that the story about the story becomes integral to finding ones way back to the story itself.
In his new book, Greenblatt focuses on a much older work of literature: the story of Adam and Eve. Greenblatt is clear-eyed about the ways relatively recent scientific discoveries have for many displaced the long-dominant origin story, but he has 'come to understand that the term "lie" is a woefully inadequate description of either the motive or the content of these stories, even at their most fantastical' ... After establishing the origins of the Western world's most impactful origin story, Greenblatt examines the diverse ways the story has been interpreted over time ... Greenblatt excels at showing how a seemingly simple story could inspire ideas that were frequently at odds with each other, or even with their author's own purposes ... The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve seeks to remind us why the story of Adam and Eve had such a powerful impact on Western culture, and even resurrects the story's value for present-day readers without the same theological inclinations.
Readers see how the shadows of the fallen Adam and Eve persisted in Judeo-Christian theology—as well as Western philosophy, art, politics, and sexual ethics. But Greenblatt persuasively argues that Adam and Eve would look different if Origen had persuaded the early church to accept his allegorical understanding of the pair. Instead, Augustine impressed on the Christian mind a sternly literal understanding of Adam and Eve, leaving later believers unprepared for Darwin’s scientific explanation of human beginnings. Though not a believer himself, Greenblatt worries that the imaginative and narrative aridity of Darwin’s explanation of the first hominids has made it a problematic substitute for the scriptural account of Adam and Eve. An impressively wide-ranging inquiry.
With his typical eloquence, Greenblatt explores the life of a biblical story that artists, philosophers, theologians and poets have struggled for hundreds of years to understand and interpret ... Greenblatt paints an exquisite portrait of artists such as Albrecht Dürer, who imagined the beauty of the original couple in his engraving 'The Fall of Man,' which illustrates, for Greenblatt, a 'vision of those perfect bodies that existed before time and labor and mortality began' ... In the end, Greenblatt elegantly concludes that the story of Adam and Eve is a powerful myth that deeply informs our understandings of temptation, innocence, freedom and betrayal, the choice between good and evil.
Greenblatt’s particular genius is in synthesizing a vast array of knowledge, connecting the dots between anthropology, archaeology, biology, theology, history, philosophy, art and literature ... In The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve he does this brilliantly, creating a compelling and nuanced account of the way this little story 'has over centuries decisively shaped conceptions of human origins and human destiny' ... Greenblatt delineates these contesting readings with wit, subtlety and dramatic flair, bringing them to life by showing what was at stake in the real world of ethics, politics and dogma. His greatest achievement here is his deep cultural analysis of key texts — theological, literary and visual.
During the Renaissance—Greenblatt’s focus as a scholar and the subject of this book’s best pages—artists like Albrecht Dürer and writers such as John Milton sought to give the rebellious couple of Genesis a palpable human reality in images and literature, most thrillingly in Milton’s great epic Paradise Lost. When Greenblatt moves on to the challenges to belief in the literal truth of the Bible posed by Enlightenment philosophers and 19th-century scientists (culminating with Darwin’s The Origin of Species), his narrative speeds up and loses focus. The author seems to be making an argument for the enduring power of stories while decrying fundamentalism, but his point isn’t clear, and a final chapter positing a chimpanzee pair in Uganda as a present-day Adam and Eve is simply odd. Many fine passages charged with Greenblatt’s passion and talent for storytelling can’t disguise the fact that he’s not quite sure what story he’s trying to tell here.