OT SS Lesson #4 -- originally posted at Mormon Matters
Although our SS lesson for this week presents Adam and Eve as two literal, physical characters, the temple ceremony hints that we can benefit by viewing their story as figurative. I am often dismayed that symbolism, while given lip service, is so little understood in LDS circles. Since the majority of Mormons believe in a literal Adam who will return to the earth in his physical resurrected body and fulfill a major role at Adam-ondi-ahman, there is little reason to investigate the allegorical aspects of the Adam and Eve story. Thus, they have become “unidentified figurative objects” whose symbolic impact is veiled.
What would we find if we began to look at Adam and Eve in allegory? One possibility that appeals to me is to identify Adam, who was created first, as our spirit, or our divinity. Adam was created by God, as was our spirit. Eve was created from man, and can represent the physical being or the human self. The order that they were created, and the fact that Eve is intended as a companion for Adam, implies that Adam is supposed to be in charge. This has nothing to do with the relationships between men and women. Instead, it teaches us that we are to identify with our divinity and follow its intentions. What are the intentions of the spirit part of our being? To become one with the bodily or physical nature so together they can grow in wisdom, express divinity and fulfill God’s plan.
I enjoy looking at Adam and Eve this way because it takes us out of male/female role expectations and places us in a position to embrace the whole spectrum of characteristics described. The same type of exercise is encouraged in Isaiah, where the “daughter of Zion” represents the covenant people, males AND females. Her struggles are not merely feminine foibles, but real challenges faced by everyone who is trying to live a covenant relationship with God.
Several religious traditions accept the Adam and Eve story as containing important religious symbols. Abdul-Baha (of the Baha’i faith) explained:
“…this story of Adam and Eve who ate from the tree, and their expulsion from Paradise, must be thought of simply as a symbol. It contains divine mysteries and universal meanings, and it is capable of marvelous explanations. Only those who are initiated into mysteries, and those who are near the Court of the All-Powerful, are aware of these secrets. Hence these verses of the Bible have numerous meanings.”
When Nephi investigated the dream of his father Lehi, he was shown the symbolism of the items in the dream, and told what they represented. If we are willing to look at the several items in the Adam and Eve story symbolically, as Abdul-Baha suggests, could we, Nephi-like, be shown meanings which would have great significance to our spiritual path? The items below are found in the Moses 4 account and are very obviously replete with symbolic meaning. I have linked to a variety of sites which may spark further contemplation of their metaphorical meanings:
- the tree of life
- the tree of knowledge
- the other trees in the garden
- the serpent
- the fruit
- the fig-leaf aprons
- the coats of skins
- the consequences which the Lord lays upon Adam and Eve
- the Garden of Eden
- the cherubim and flaming sword
Do you think Latter-day Saints have become so accustomed to thinking of the Adam and Eve story as literal that they are blinded to the more symbolic meanings? Are you more comfortable studying and/or teaching this story as literal, figurative, or both?