I am not a scholar of Jewish theology, so I do not wish to address the story from a Jewish perspective. But I would like to offer a different take on the story for Christians to consider.
The issue I have with the traditional Christian interpretation of the Adam and Eve story is two-fold. First, it presents an incredibly negative view of humanity. This fall of humanity from grace supposedly makes us so depraved that only the death of Jesus can restore our relationship to God. In fact, there are those who insist that we can never overcome our depravity and the only saving grace we have is that, if we believe in Jesus and his salvation, God does not actually ever see us, but only sees Jesus standing between God and us. I find this concept, that we have to deceive God in order to be in relationship with God, appalling.
While there are certainly times when I also hold an incredibly negative view of humanity, my overall attitude is that of the more positive parts of the Genesis creation narrative – that the creation as a whole is inherently good and that humanity, created in God's image, is therefore also inherently good. We are distressingly capable of unspeakable evils, but the answer to such evil is not additional evil – i.e., the "necessary" death of Jesus. The answer has to do with the amazing and unconditional grace of God.
Which brings me to my second concern about the traditional interpretation of the Adam and Eve story. It presents an incredibly negative view of God. If God is so angry at humanity that only the death of Jesus can satisfy his anger, then we are not dealing with a true God, but a God who is only a reflection of our own worst inclinations. If God is pure love, then there is nothing that can make God so angry as to demand a sacrifice. If God is pure love, then God is limited to love as the only response possible in the face of humanity's disappointing tendency toward evil.
So, if the traditional Christian interpretation of the Adam and Eve story leaves us dissatisfied, is there another way to see the story which is more productive? I think there is.
I see the story as a reflection of humanity's movement from a dreamlike state of innocent ignorance to a state of responsible knowledge or awareness. The garden of Eden sounds like a paradise, but is that the kind of life we truly want to live, with no awareness of good and evil and no choice but to live in this dreamlike state? Could we truly appreciate such a life if we had no knowledge of any other possibilities?
Instead, when Adam and Eve eat the apple, they become aware that they can make choices and they become responsible for their choices. That responsibility might seem like punishment (expulsion from the garden), but in fact it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, both good and bad.
We see the same movement acted out in the maturation of our children from infancy to adulthood. Babies are totally self-centered, but nobody faults them for being that way. It is necessary for their survival. As they grow older and become more aware of their surroundings, we begin to expect them to be less self-centered, to share their toys, to take on certain chores (which they often see as punishment), to do things to help others and so become more responsible. By the time they leave the nest, we expect them to be responsible adults who understand that the best life is one in which they are as willing to help others as they are to help themselves.
So I see the story of Adam and Eve as a reflection of our experience of life in which we eventually find it possible to make choices based on our awareness of the world around us. Far from being a negative thing, this is what makes life challenging and exciting and worth living. While it allows for many poor decisions to be made, it also presents us with exhilarating possibilities of goodness and grace.
God's role in all of this is not to give us an escape route from our responsibility, but to shower us with an abundant and unconditional grace which is meant to nurture within us a desire to be gracious ourselves. It is a tremendous risk, but God remembers that the creation is inherently good and so counts on that goodness to eventually prevail. I find this way of seeing the story as far more inspirational and encouraging than the overly negative traditional interpretation.
I welcome your comments.