Genesis 3 as Psycho-Drama

Augustine famously argued that the “fall narrative” of Genesis 3, while depicting a real historical event, was also a figure of the rational soul’s disordered relation, through the imagination, to the sensible world. The story depicts how reason (Adam) is seduced by temporal things (the fruit) through the suggestions that the evil one makes to the imagination (Eve). “For certainly bodily things are perceived by the sense of the body; but spiritual things, which are eternal and unchangeable, are understood by the reason of wisdom” (DT 12.12.17). Augustine sees this reading as warranted in part by St. Paul’s own use of the Genesis narrative in 1 Cor 11, where he claims, “man…is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor 11:7). Augustine knows, however, that all human beings bear the image, and so he resolves the tension by suggesting that Paul takes the married couple to serve as a figure for the way in which the human mind images God, with the husband standing in for the mind’s attention to the eternal good, and the woman standing in for the mind’s attention to temporal things (DT 12.7.10). Nonetheless, he insists that the couple is a figure of an image which, “it is clear, not men only, but also women have” (DT 12.7.12). 

Augustine doesn’t, so far as I can tell, notice a telling textual cue in Genesis itself that invites us to read the fall narrative in the way he suggests. One of the consequences of the fall about which God warns Eve is that, “וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ וְה֖וּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ (your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you)” (Gen 3:16). But then, just a few verses later, God offers Cain a similar warning: “לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֨יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֹ֔ו וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בֹּֽו (sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you will (or may) rule over it)” (Gen 4:7). Genesis itself suggests a kind of interpenetration of (fallen) Eve and Cain’s sin; Scripture allegorizes itself.

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