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Don’t touch! (Genesis chap. 3, verse 3)

 … But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

The third verse is the second part of the phrase in verse two: “And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden …”. The answer of the woman sounds like the question of the winding “snake”.

On the surface, the text seems to contradict an earlier part of Genesis, where it was said that God had planted the tree of life at the center of the garden (cf. Gen 2:9). It means that both are in the middle of the garden? The syntax of Gen 2:9 doesn’t necessarily indicate that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was in the midst of the garden: “the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. The conjunction “and” – in Hebrew we – doesn’t oblige to think that the second tree was at the center.

However, in the third chapter (vv. 2-3) it would clearly appear that that tree was at the center. Something that is “at the center” is obviously something important, that belongs to God. However, this doesn’t mean that man can grasp both fruits undisturbed.

As we will see, God expels the man from Eden so that he couldn’t to put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life “(Gen 3:22). It seems, thus, that to seize the tree of life, it is necessary first to savor the knowledge of good and evil. But it is only a hypothesis that later we will evaluate.

What matters here is that the response of Eve is a kind of a misunderstanding of the words of God to man. God didn’t say to the man to not to “touch” the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but simply to not eat it: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17).

The woman seems to begin to be under the influence of the serpent that creeps, distorts, offers other points of view with respect to God. In the words of Eve, a picture emerges of God cruel and inhumane. A God who orders not to even “touch”! However, behind this there is the image that the snake wants to give of himself: he is truly the friend of man: “But is it really true that God has said to you … ?” (Gen 3:1). It will be like this?

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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