Adam Was an Idiot: Alan Segal and Martin Luther

When I was a graduate student, I was a TA several times for Alan Segal’s Hebrew Bible course.  When we discussed the second creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Alan would remark about how much of an idiot Adam was.  The key moment was after Adam and Eve had sinned, they hid themselves (Gen. 3:8).  God then comes and walks in the garden and wonders where Adam is (3:9).  Adam responds, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (3:10).  Basically, when God calls out because God can’t find him, Adam calls out, saying in summary, “I’m hiding!”  Idiot!  Anyone who is hiding should not yell out to the one looking for them that they are hiding!  This, for Alan, largely fit in with a larger pattern of Adam’s stupidity.  Adam tends to speak more paratactically (in simple sentences and clauses connected by “and”).  Eve, however, speaks more hypotactically; that is, in my complex sentence formats.  Alan always thought that the poetic fragment, “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” was more Tarzan-speak than anything profound.  During the temptation itself, Eve actually reasons out the response; Adam, “who was with her” (Gen. 3:6) just stands there dumb (literally, he does not speak) and does what Eve tells him to do without considering anything.  For Alan, the ultimate punishment for Eve – that her husband will rule over her (3:16) is that she will be ruled by someone far dumber than her.

What a strange moment of partial recognition I had, then, when I read in Martin Luther’s commentary on Genesis 3:10 – the part where Adam calls out to God that he’s hiding – that Luther found Adam to be an idiot: “Just as Adam stupidly began to flee, so he answers most stupidly; so thoroughly had sin deprived him of all discernment and good sense.”  For Luther, he is stupid on many counts: he is fleeing from God because he is naked, but God made him naked, so why should he care?  He hears God, and is afraid, but has he not heard God before?  For Luther, this whole scene fits a situation in which a sinner trying to hide one’s sin, through the act of hiding it reveals it (by the way, the investigative tactic of the detective in the novel Crime & Punishment).  For Alan Segal, this was part of a broader pattern; for Luther, stupidity was a consequence of Adam’s sin.  Beforehand, Adam had perfect insight, illustrated in many ways, but in particular through his naming of the animals: “Without any new enlightenment, solely because of the excellence of his nature, he views all the animals and thus arrives at such knowledge of their nature that he can give each one a suitable name that harmonizes with its nature” (on Gen. 2.19).  Through the naming process, he showed perfect insight into the nature of the animal and, therefore, the name most proper for it.  From this knowledge, Luther writes, follows human rule of animals.  He further writes, “What an ocean of knowledge and wisdom there was in this one human being!” (on 2.20).  For Luther, Adam had the height of intellect that will never be fully recovered, though scientific knowledge regains some of Adam’s original understanding slowly, bit by bit, but never completely.


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