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Simon, B. (1994). Adam, Eve and the Serpent: By Elaine Pagels. New York: Vintage Books, 1989, xviii + 189 pp., $17.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:292-296.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:292-296

Adam, Eve and the Serpent: By Elaine Pagels. New York: Vintage Books, 1989, xviii + 189 pp., $17.95.

Review by:
Bennett Simon, M.D.

There are three aspects of this book that are of great interest to analysts, above and beyond the interest this book should hold for many educated readers. The first, embedded in the title, is that the Adam, Eve, and the serpent story in Genesis became first for Jews, and later for Christians, an interpretive vehicle for articulating attitudes and laws about sexuality, procreation, family ties, and human moral choice. Pagels begins by telling the story of what different Jewish scholars of the first few centuries of the Common Era did with the tale—how it was used to buttress a variety of prohibitions—incest, homosexuality, and bestiality, or sexual practices that might interfere with procreation. Most of the book elaborates how Christian writers and theologians, those who were later called Church Fathers, and those who were later deemed heretics, variously used the same tale to justify and explicate a variety of ideas, often polemically attacking other Christians, about sexuality, free will, and procreation. In the earlier centuries, while there was great emphasis on purity in sexuality, and a trend to elevate virginity and celibacy to a great virtue, sexuality per se was not deemed sinful nor as engendered by man's sinfulness. Christianity's attitude toward sexuality, broadly defined, was revolutionary and startling both to Jews and to pagans, though for different reasons to each. "To the Jews a stumbling block [or, scandal] and to the Gentiles a folly" (I Cor. 1, 23), Paul asserts about the idea of Christ crucified, but the phrase well captures Jewish and Gentile response to Christian teachings. Pagels writes that in relation to Jewish attitudes centuries old, "Jesus and his followers, at the beginning of what came to be called the Christian Era, took up startlingly different attitudes toward divorce, procreation and family" (p. 9).

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