The Garden of Eden: Myth and Meaning in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Presented by Michael “Tzvi” Novick

There is no more famous a story in the Western world than that of Adam and Eve in Eden. For Christianity, and to a lesser extent for Judaism, it conveys the most fundamental features of the human condition. The Qur’an, too, the sacred scripture of Islam, knows of this story, and the Islamic commentary tradition dwells on it. Our course will consider the meaning of the Eden story in its original, Ancient Near Eastern context, and sample some of the ways in which the three “Abrahamic” religions have understood it. Our analysis will complicate common conceptions about scriptural interpretation. It is often supposed that interpretation begins only after scripture emerges, and that interpretation marks a divergence from the text’s plain meaning. We will see, on the contrary, that the Eden story, in its original context, is itself an interpretation and revision of mythic motifs that circulated at the time, and that the different religious traditions’ interpretations of the story bring to light and address essential tensions in the story’s plain sense.

About Michael “Tzvi” Novick

Tzvi Novick occupies the Abrams Chair of Jewish Thought and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches in the Department of Theology. He has published widely on the Hebrew Bible, the literature of the Second Temple period, rabbinic literature, and late antique liturgical poetry.