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.
...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.’