“Pandora's Box”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. (Genesis 3.6-7)
The ancient Greeks told a story very similar to this, usually called Pandora’s Box. In that myth, the chief god Zeus commissions the manufacture of the first woman, Pandora, as a punishment for man’s acquisition of fire. Not content with the severity of that punishment—yes, they envisioned woman as a curse upon man—Zeus also gives Pandora a container which he orders her not to open, knowing that sooner or later her curiosity will get the better of her. When it does, the woman finds the jar contains every evil thing, and she is unable to stop them from escaping and filling the world. This is obviously a much later retelling of the account of Adam and Eve. The similarities are striking, with the first woman being formed by God and presented to pre-existing man as a gift, the woman’s choice to disobey God’s simple instruction, and thus the entrance of all evil into the formerly safe, peaceful, and innocent world.
The differences, however, can tell us a lot. The motivations behind the details even help us to better understand what God tells us in Genesis. In contrast to the Greeks’ re-imagined story, God didn’t give Eve to Adam as a curse pretending to be a blessing. The verses leading up to Eve’s creation demonstrate that Adam is incomplete, without Eve.
Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2.19-20)
We could’ve missed it, but comparison to the corrupted Greek myth makes God’s true motivations all the clearer. Adam is alone, and that is not good. He sets out to rectify that situation, and Eve is the result.
Another difference is that, while Zeus used a reverse-psychology approach to get Pandora to open the source of all evil, God didn't do this. He provided the choice, of course, and knew that they would eventually choose rebellion, but he meant what he said, and punished Adam and Eve for disobeying. The entrance of evil into the world wasn’t his goal—it was a tragedy.
Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, while the Greeks weren’t shy about blaming everyone else for what goes wrong with man, God makes it clear in Genesis that all humans are responsible for evil. The Greeks blamed woman—that silly twit just had to know what was under the lid, and now everything’s ruined. But while Eve was deceived and was the first to eat the forbidden fruit, is Adam any better? He knows the command as well as Eve does, and can’t even claim he was tricked. “She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Ge 3.6). He’s not exactly an unwilling participant, and he’s certainly not the model of a patriarchal head of his household, who’s in charge and responsible for not just himself but those in his care. No, instead when God confronts him about his sin, he responds, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Ge. 3.12).
Funnily enough then, the Greeks are simply telling the story from Adam’s perspective, without a shred of awareness that Adam is part of the problem. Adam blamed Eve. These Greeks blamed Pandora, and women in general, for all their misfortune and suffering. Adam, in his quest to shift the blame from his own shoulders to anyone else, also blamed God himself, by calling Eve, “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” That fact only bears mentioning in this conversation in order to imply God is really the one responsible for this catastrophic turn of events. We’re meant to roll our eyes at Adam’s weaseling, and then upon reflection to see his faults in ourselves, too. That lesson seems to have been lost on the Greek storytellers, who instead take Adam’s idea of blaming God and run with it, so that they assign evil motives to Zeus every step of the way and cast these poor, innocent primordial men as victims—of Pandora’s foolishness, and the gods’ malice.
This is not a good way to look at the world, for many reasons. Look where it got Adam:
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3.17-19)
God doesn’t much care for excuse-making and blame-slinging, no matter who’s doing it. The road to redemption starts with acknowledging your need for it. Rather than blaming each other and God for all that is wrong in the world, look at your own contributions to evil. We must acknowledge our guilt, or we won’t obtain forgiveness.