I do write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).
The Story of Eden
There is the story of a snake that became embroiled in the affairs of a happily-married couple. Allegedly, the couple, called Adam and Eve, were the first humans to be created. They were placed by their Creator God in idyllic surroundings, in an area straddling the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, an area known to posterity as the Garden of Eden. The garden had many trees whose fruit the couple were at liberty to enjoy. But two of the fruit trees are of significance to the story.
One was the tree of life. To eat the fruit of this tree—they got to understand rather belatedly—was to live forever. As to the second, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were specifically warned by the Creator not so much as touch it; because to eat the fruit of this tree was to “surely die.”
But then came the snake. It beguiled the couple, starting with the woman, into believing that eating the forbidden fruit would rather make them wise and all-knowing. Without a moment's hesitation, they succumbed to the snake’s temptation and tried the fruit one after the other.
The repercussion of this blatant act of disobedience was swift and uncompromising. They were expelled by the Creator from their blissful existence to a life of toil and pain—the kind of life so familiar to us, their supposed descendants, even today.
Was Adam the First Human?
The above story is told in chapters 1 to 3 of the Holy Bible’s Book of Genesis. It is generally interpreted by students of the Bible to mean that Adam was the first-ever human to be created on earth.
Bahá’ís do not subscribe to this interpretation, though. One of the 12 basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith is the need for religion and science to walk hand-in-hand and be in harmony with each other.
Science has established, by different methodologies, that the world of man is rather more ancient than the 6,000 years ascribed to it by students of the Bible. Science says modern man appeared on earth some 200,000 years ago, although he had in fact been evolving in more primitive forms for some six million years. Such claims are backed up by compelling archaeological, anthropological, genetic and other scientific evidence.
Adam the Prophet
A careful reading of the creation story shows Adam in two contrasting roles. In the first chapter of Genesis—and all biblical references in this article are from the King James Bible—we are told:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him….” (Genesis 1:27)
Further details of the creation are given in the second chapter:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7)
Man is then given:
“dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth…” (Genesis 1:26)
“and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
Now, when one observes the raising up of Manifestations and Messengers of God, one sees a similar pattern. The Manifestation is created as a perfect Man able to fully reflect the image of God. God then breathes within him the breath of the Holy Spirit, and the Manifestation becomes alive with the power of the Divine. With this power, he exercises unchallengeable dominion over all created things, as he arises to carry out his God-given mission.
So, this part of the narrative in Genesis shows Adam in the role of a Prophet. He is raised up a perfect man, receives the breath of God—which is the Holy Spirit—and is given dominion over all created things.
The Adamic Cycle
This then makes Adam, not the first-ever human created on earth but rather the first Prophet of a religious cycle known to Bahá’ís as the “Adamic Cycle.”
According to Bahá’ís, the Adamic Cycle began with Adam, spanned the advents of the Founders of the existing world religions—such as Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam—and ends in the last day with the appearance of the Promised One of all ages and all religions.
To Bahá’ís, Bahá’u’lláh is that Promised One. His dispensation began in 1844 with the advent of his forerunner, the Báb.
Adam and Eve
The other Adam in the Book of Genesis, who lived with Eve in the Garden of Eden and disobeyed God, is more like the subject of a parable—a short story with hidden mysteries, profound meanings, and marvellous pearls of wisdom.
There are many interpretations to this narrative. In one version, gleaned from the Bahá’í Writings, Adam represents the heavenly spirit of man and Eve his human soul.
The Tree of Knowledge
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is none other than this material world of ours. As is obvious to all, ours is a world of duality, a realm of opposites, where good and evil, light and darkness, love and hate, and other earthly attributes and concepts co-exist as contrary conditions.
Revelation 12:9 refers to the snake as “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Cf. Revelation 20:2). So, in the Book of Revelation, the snake or serpent is identified with the devil. But the snake of the Genesis story cannot be an actual living creature or entity enticing man to disobedience. Instead, it signifies man’s attachment to the human world.
To put it another way, the serpent represents man’s desire and passion for the things of the world, desire and passion that ultimately leads him to sin and commit transgressions, like lying, fornicating, stealing, killing, and so on. And this desire comes from man’s lower nature, his physical reality, his body.
(The subject of Satan is addressed in greater detail in my article: Who or What Is Satan? The link is at: https://hubpages.com/@kobby95)
Mortality and Immortality
The main lesson of the creation narrative of Genesis is that eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil spells death, whereas taking nourishment from the fruit of the tree of life endows one with the ability to live forever.
It is a well-known creed of the Abrahamic faiths that one who chooses to live in flagrant sin loses the chance to live forever. To live forever simply means to be blessed with the eternal life of heaven. And to die, in this context, is not about physical death—which awaits everyone—but spiritual death, which is equivalent to hell.
So, all that every unrepentant sinner does with himself is barter away the gift of everlasting life (heaven) for the sentence of spiritual death (hell).
The Tree of Life
The tree of life whose fruit enables man to live forever is, in a general sense, the Word of God embodied in the Manifestation of God.
Let’s test this interpretation by reviewing some authentic words of the Manifestations of God.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever….” (John 6:51)
Clearly here, Jesus is referring, not to his physical reality but to his reality as the Word of God. When the soul of a believer is nourished with the words of the Gospel, he stands to gain the reward of everlasting life.
And in the Jewish Bible, Moses admonishes the children of Israel thus:
“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments…. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life….” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19)
It is self-explanatory that the references to “life” in the above quotation relate to the need for the children of Israel to love God, walk in His ways, and be obedient to His Word.
Similar statements can be found in the revelations of other Manifestations of God. Bahá’u’lláh, for instance, refers to his words as:
“the food that conferreth everlasting life upon the pure in heart and the illumined in spirit.” (The Book of Certitude, p. 22)
Therefore, being filled with the knowledge and love of God, through the word revealed by the Manifestation, is the same as eating the fruit of the tree of life. The knowledge and love of God it is that conduces to eternal life.
Because they listened to the snake rather than abiding by the dictates of God, Adam and Eve lost their place in the Edenic surroundings. And thus was ended the easeful life they had become accustomed to. Sadly, upon expulsion from the Garden, the way to the tree of life was also barred to them and their descendants:
“So he [God] drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24)
This explains why the appearance of the Manifestation of God in every age spells danger for perceptive and receptive souls. Invariably, his advent becomes an occasion for the persecution and martyrdom of many of the early believers of his faith, when all sorts of atrocities and sufferings are meted out to them. To get to the tree of life the true believer has to fight tough spiritual battles and make great personal sacrifices to witness to the cause of truth.
The Reappearance of the Tree of Life
Yet something interesting is promised in the last day. In Genesis, the first Book of the Bible, access to the tree of life became restricted—as exemplified by the presence of cherubim and a flaming sword at the Garden and in the way to the tree. However, in the Book of Revelation, the final Book of the Bible—the Book that forecasts events leading up to the last day and beyond—the tree of life reappears.
This tree of life is undoubtedly the Manifestation of God for the last day, the messianic Figure expected in all religions and by all the peoples of the world.
The Tree of Life in the Last Day
In a general sense, the tree of life refers to the Manifestations of God in every age as earlier explained. So, why then does the tree of life reappear only in the last day in the overview of the Holy Bible?
The simple answer is that the tree of life has not and could not have been universally accessible during the Adamic Cycle. Only in the last day, coinciding with the age of globalisation, can the tree of life be accessible to all and sundry and the heavenly conditions embodied in the biblical Garden of Eden be restored across the globe to the benefit of all the children of men.
Bear in mind that the last day is the occasion for the building of the Kingdom of God, when the whole earth gradually transforms into a veritable Garden of Eden, an abode of paradise.
The Tree of Life in the Book of Revelation
Let's find out what has been said about the tree of life in the Book of Revelation. In addressing one of the seven churches, Jesus made this solemn promise:
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
Overcome here, as far as this discussion goes, means rising above one’s doubts, scepticisms, and superstitions to attain to the recognition of the Christ at his appearance.
And in the last chapter of the Book, it says:
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life....” (Revelation 22:14)
Several verses before that, it says:
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)
And this is yet another proof that the world will not end in the last day as some erroneously imagine. From the above verse, we can see that there will be nations and people on earth, and the leaves of the tree of life—in other words, the laws from the holy book of the last day—will heal the sicknesses of mankind and bring peace, composure, and wellbeing to all the world’s inhabitants.
This extraordinary state of affairs is captured elsewhere in the same Book:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Thus, in the last day, the Garden of Eden—with its tree of life, which seemed so out of reach in previous dispensations—comes within the reach of all on earth; but, as always, man has to exorcise his demons to attain it.
An Allegory of Human Existence
To conclude, the Garden of Eden is not an actual garden but an allegory of human existence. Eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil means becoming engrossed in the pleasures and gay livery of this mortal world of dust; ultimately, such a lifestyle yields nothing but spiritual death. The snake is man’s desire and passion that keeps him attached to the world. And eating the fruit of the tree of life simply means absorbing the authentic Word of God through the divine Manifestation, which then leads to life everlasting.
In the last day, the Edenic conditions extolled in the Book of Genesis is anticipated to re-emerge in glory across the entire globe in a literal sense.
References and Recommended Reading
- Some Answered Questions | Bahá’í Reference Library
A section of the book deals with Christian subjects, including a discussion of the meaning of the Adam and Eve story. The book can be read online or downloaded for free.
- An Evolutionary Timeline of Homo Sapiens | Science | Smithsonian Magazine
Scientists share the findings that helped them pinpoint key moments in the rise of our species
- First humans: Homo sapiens & early human migration (article) | Khan Academy
Homo sapiens evolved from their early hominid predecessors between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago.
- Timeline: Human Evolution | New Scientist
When did humans first emerge on the scene, and how did we develop? Follow the story in the timeline.
- The Timeline of Human Evolution
This takes the reader for a ride through evolutionary memory lane, carefully listing the members of our long family tree.
The Garden of Eden Story
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn