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The first hint of evil in the Tanakh seems to come in Genesis 3:1 (NJPS):

Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”

The serpent is questioning God's instructions, which seems both unwarranted and irrational considering that everything in the world was created good. Genesis 1:31 (NJPS):

And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The odd thing is that the serpent was himself a created thing and so must have been good on the sixth day.

Generations later, God is prepared to wipe out humanity and all living creatures with it. Genesis 6:5-7 (NJPS):

The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. The Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created—men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”

What started humanity on a downward spiral from the "very good" of Genesis 1 to the "great wickedness" of Genesis 6? Was it questioning God's goodness?


About closing this question:

I've come to the conclusion that as interesting as this question is, it's off topic here. In my opinion, Genesis just doesn't say. Many commentators have opinions, but it seems to me to be just that: opinions. Ultimately, how you might go about answering this question says as much about your doctrine as about the text.

If you are still interested in this question, I suggest doing one (or more!) of the following things:

  1. Ask on Christianity.stackexchange.com
  2. Ask on Jewish Life & Learning
  3. Ask a more focused question here
  4. Ask someone whose opinion you trust

I've been struggling with this question for a long time and I find it somehow appropriate that it is closed—not because I am done struggling, but because there is no easy or satisfying answer. As Job says:

Job said in reply to the Lord:

I know that You can do everything,
That nothing you propose is impossible for You.

Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge?
Indeed, I spoke without understanding
Of things beyond me, which I did not know.

Hear now, and I will speak;
I will ask, and You will inform me.

I had heard You with my ears,
But now I see You with my eyes;

Therefore, I recant and relent,
Being but dust and ashes.
—Job 42:1-6 (NJPS)

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closed as off topic by Jon Ericson, Jack Douglas Nov 18 '11 at 20:32

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I'm still trying to ask more tanakh questions. This one arose from a book I'm currently reading: "The God I Don't Understand". –  Jon Ericson Nov 2 '11 at 19:05
    
Good question. Also big. :-) One question in return: is questioning an evil act? –  Gone Quiet Nov 2 '11 at 20:02
    
@Monica: I don't think so. Perhaps that's part of the question: what started humanity on a downward spiral from the "very good" of Genesis 1 to the "great wickedness" of Genesis 6? Was it questioning God's goodness? But that would make the question even bigger. Do you have a suggestion of how to narrow it down or break it up? Should I remove the question from Job? –  Jon Ericson Nov 2 '11 at 20:11
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@JonEricson, as is this is a really big question, definitely something worth reading/writing a book about. I do like the idea of removing the question from Job and adding: "what started humanity on a downward spiral from the 'very good' of Genesis 1 to the 'great wickedness' of Genesis 6? Was it questioning God's goodness?" Limiting the question to good and evil in the book of Genesis would make it more manageable IMO. –  Amichai Nov 2 '11 at 20:18
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It may, but narrowing it to Genesis seems like a good approach to me. You could ask the Job question separately if the answers here don't satisfy your original intent. Whole books have been written about theodicy, but I will try to write an SE-sized answer later when I get home to my books. :-) –  Gone Quiet Nov 2 '11 at 20:39
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1 Answer

Understanding evil requires that we understand the nature of sin.

Sin did not come into the world by the serpent or by Eve but by Adam [1].

What did the serpent do?

Ge 3:1 ¶ Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

Since the serpent was 'more subtle' than the other animals, the other animals must have been 'less subtle'. 'Less subtle' means 'more obvious'.

There is only one law, so there is only one temptation, to eat the fruit. How could the other animals be more obvious in tempting Eve to eat the fruit? One might imagine that they sang and danced an early rendition of Hakuna Matata.

But most likely, they were eating the fruit and not dying. [4] Eve would think to herself, why don't they die? Oh... THEY are animals, and WE are man.

But the serpent challenged the difference between man and animals, suggesting that they are the same. Both were created by God with instincts. When the animal lives by instinct, eating what looks and smells good, it glorifies God who created him that way. Wouldn't Eve glorify God also if she lived by instinct? Doesn't that fruit look and smell good? [2][3]

The essence of Eve's transgression was in putting the instinctive flesh before her 'image of God'. The flesh was good and her spirit nature was good, but they had to be in the proper perspective.

Whenever we live instinctively, like animals, we commit the original sin. We have not placed God's word foremost in our life. The flesh is good as long as it is second, in subjection to God's word.

The result is that God gave us many reminders that we are more than animals. He gave us clothing so that we are not naked like animals. He gave us marriage so we don't procreate like animals. Meal prayers so we don't eat instinctively like animals. Mezzuzas so we go and come through space mindful of God rather than instinctively like animals. The Sabbath so we don't pass time like animals.

Though Eve was deceived, her transgression did not warrant death. In a later time, she could have washed herself and been unclean until the evening. But Adam ate the fruit with his eyes wide open. His sin was direct rebellion against God. This was the moment that sin came into the world. This was evil.

Oh... and the golden rule is just the opposite of original sin. Rather than instinctively putting yourself first, you think of others first. This is the nature of love.

[1] Ro 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

[2] Ge 3:6 ¶ And when the woman saw that the tree [was] good for food, and that it [was] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make [one] wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

[3] Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch restates the temptation:

God may have said to avoid the tree, but the question is: Do you want to eat from the tree? Do you desire it? And let's say you do desire the tree. Where do you think those desires came from? Who put them inside you? Wasn't God the one who put them inside you? Certainly He did... He is your Maker... I don't know about you, the snake says, but if I were in your shoes -- here's how I would see it: Even if God said don't eat of the trees, so what? It's not the voice that speaks to you in words that's primary. It's the voice inside you that's primary...

[4]They were not commanded not to eat the fruit. There is no reason to suppose that they would die by doing so.

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You lost me at: "This means that they also were tempting Eve in a more obvious fashion." That seems an unwarranted jump as you could also understand the meaning of the phrase to be that the other animals didn't think to tempt Eve at all, for whatever reason. Or perhaps he was more subtle because none of the other animal were clever at all. Or perhaps it's the author's way of introducing a new character. –  Jon Ericson Nov 18 '11 at 0:37
    
If one is more than the others, the others are less than the one. Simple logic. The property is subtly. Less subtle means more obvious. You have not produced a single theological statement with your speculations. Not one of them is consistent with the rest of the scriptures. I have produced a theologically sound interpretation. I am unable to follow your objection. –  Bob Jones Nov 18 '11 at 5:10
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If you wish to be critical of a sensus plenior interpretation, then please use the rules of sensus plenior to do so rather than your free-for-all allegory, so that the criticism is congruent with the claims made for it. –  Bob Jones Nov 18 '11 at 5:23
    
There is no reason to believe that anybody would have been thinking about death at that time. How would they even know what death is since nothing had died yet? –  Gone Quiet Nov 18 '11 at 14:08
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"`aruwm <06175>" means "1) subtle, shrewd, crafty, sly, sensible 1a) crafty 1b) shrewd, sensible, prudent" I think it's a misreading to imply the opposite of this word is "obvious". Regardless of method, don't we at least need to agree on the non-symbolic, bare meaning of words before going on to the higher meanings? –  Jon Ericson Nov 18 '11 at 18:39
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