Star Trek and Eden -

Star Trek and Eden

An academic looks at how Adam and Eve appear in pop culture


Star Trek and EdenYou don’t have to be Christian or Jewish to know the story of Adam and Eve; in fact, you can hardly have escaped it if you lived within reach of Western media over the past 2,000 years. Everyone has a store of expressions alluding to the first humans (whether actual or mythic), from fig leaves to forbidden fruit. We know what that fruit was—an apple—and what it signified: choice, knowledge, sexual temptation. And we all know that Adam and Eve lived in immortal innocence in a paradise called the Garden of Eden. Until, that is, they were tempted by a snake (Satan’s mouthpiece) and “fell,” out of grace and into human life as it’s been ever since—nasty, brutish and short.

We are far less aware that most of the above is unsupported by the brief Biblical narrative (Genesis 2:4 to 4:1), and some of it isn’t there at all. But it hardly matters, as Theresa Sanders notes in Approaching Eden: Adam and Eve in Popular Culture. The story of Adam and Eve—including its centuries of embellishments—is embedded in our deepest cultural DNA. For Sanders, a theologian at Washington’s Georgetown University, “It’s as if the story holds the same allure that the forbidden fruit held for the first couple.”

Whatever that was. Genesis doesn’t say. Early Jewish sources postulated everything from figs to pomegranates. But once the Bible was translated into Latin, a language in which the word for “apple” and “evil” (malum) is the same, the die was cast. Similarly, the fate of the serpent, who must have had legs as the story opens, for his punishment is to lose them: “Upon your belly shalt thou go.” Medieval artists often drew a salamander-like creature; moderns, less attuned to the text, tend to portray a snake from beginning to end.

What really interests Sanders is not the story’s trappings, but what popular culture has viewed as its essential message. Religious traditions may have held, in the main, to the belief that the expulsion from the garden was humanity’s greatest calamity, but most pop culture is suspicious of purported Edens. An episode from the first Star Trek series finds the crew of the Enterprise on an idyllic planet; rule by a computer has meant there is no sorrow, death, labour, sex or births. Capt. Kirk’s crew is forced to destroy the computer, thereby casting the inhabitants from an indolent life into a struggle for survival. Kirk is pleased to dwell on the upside: now, he tells them, “they can learn something about men and women—caring for each other, being happy with each other,” and that as they do so, the children will come. Easy enough for Kirk to say, since he gets to return to the comforts of the Enterprise, but Sanders’s point is that the episode is entitled “The Apple” in clear allusion to Genesis, and draws a straight line between the apple of knowledge and sexuality.

Nothing has roiled the waters of Genesis commentary more than what it might say about the relationship between men and women. Adam, after all, gains the headship over Eve—“he shall rule over thee”—and thus all husbands over all wives, because she sinned first. If patriarchal societies have focused on that after-the-fall aspect of the story, more feminist readings have concentrated on Adam and Eve in the garden, where husband and wife are helpmates to one another. (In any event, neither of the first couple is very brave about accepting responsibility: he blames her, and she blames the serpent, who, if anyone had bothered to ask, would surely have replied that “The devil made me do it.”)

But the aspect of their story most entrenched in popular re-imaginings is the forbidden fruit/sexual intercourse link. Most early commentators held with St. Augustine that there was no such thing as sex until the first couple sinned, “and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Augustine took that as meaning they could now see what had not existed before: sexual arousal. Pop culture couldn’t agree more, and the presumed sexlessness of new Edens is one reason it rejects them.

But regardless of whether human sexual relations are inherently fallen (i.e. sinful), childbearing is inherently painful and dangerous. The story of Adam and Eve portrays it as a punishment: “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” Strange then, that the “curse” of Eve has come to mean menstruation rather than labour pain. In the 12th century the mystic Hildegard of Bingen offered an explanation, granted her by God in a vision: during her period a woman “is in pain and in prison, suffering a small portion of the pain of childbirth I gave to Eve when she conceived sin in the taste of the fruit.” These theological explanations of natural phenomena had real-world implications after the arrival of modern painkillers. “Reverse the curse,” runs a 2008 Midol pain reliever ad campaign. But early anaesthesia faced resistance from doctors who felt menstrual and labour pains were divinely ordained.

There is no end, as Sanders’s survey shows, to the uses to which Western culture has put its foundational myth. In an era when our concepts of gender roles and sexual relationships—the aspects of the story of Adam and Eve that fascinate us most—are in flux, that’s not liable to change.


Star Trek and Eden

  1. Hi, I found you posting interesting and agree The apple does draw from the story of Adam and eve, However with the comments on Kirk, what I take from the story is that he has freed the inhabitants from what is essentially a type of dictatorship machine or not, freedom does have cost's but most always blossom from such situations.

    I am not a religious person, I believe if a person gets something from their beliefs who am I to say otherwise as long as they keep it to themselves, However I do have a question If god is all living and forgiving whey were the cast down and punished?

    • The standard response is that God is the God who saves, and humans damn themselves as naturally as they breathe. Humans are sinful and can't help themselves but be sinful. Living a sinless life is so impossible in fact, that God had to sanctify our life and death with his incarnation, in order to make it possible for us to share in his eternal perfection.

      Whether you find it convincing or not is your business, but that is the answer in a nutshell to your question.

      • I think "horrifying" is the word more than "convincing."

  2. Amusing how ignorant the popular perception of Adam & Eve is.

    The fruit from the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil was exactly that, the ability to determine for themselves through their own faculties what constitutes that which is good or bad rather than God's say so. For as the Serpent declared "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" This could either be interpreted as man attempting to honestly appropriate truth and virtue unaided or merely to declare right and wrong as that which tickles their fancy.

    There was sex before the fall (Genesis 1 declares it, the fall occurred chronologically 2 chapters after the declaration). Augustine in his "City of God" did not say there was no sex before the fall. Rather, he disassociated the sexual act from any sensual pleasure. The erotic desires and feelings occurred as punishment for sin. Some punishment! However, he had no basis for such a claim.

    This claim that sex occurred before the Fall is not my own private interpretation. Martin Luther in his "Estate of Marriage" echoes this view as do most Protestant Reformers.

    • I don't think most Catholic thinkers thought there wasn't sex before the fall either… of course, it is a little muddled now because most sane people generally assume that Genesis is allegorical truth rather than literal truth.

      • My rendering of St. Jerome, St. Augustine's comtemporary, lends to me believe that he did not think there was sex at all.

        • Well, you're wrong.

          • Dear Ted:

            As per St. Jerome:

            From "Against Jovinianus" Book 1-16
            "And as regards Adam and Eve we must maintain that before the fall they were virgins in Paradise: but after they sinned, and were cast out of Paradise, they were immediately married."

            From "Against Jovinianus" Book 1-20
            "And as regards Adam and Eve we must maintain that before the fall they were virgins in Paradise: but after they sinned, and were cast out of Paradise, they were immediately married."

            I am aware that one can take quotes out of context and I am attempting to be faithful to the spirit of his writing. But in rendering of his writing, the spirit of his work demonstrates a disdain for human sexuality as a necessary evil rather than an exquisitely beautiful gift of Jehovah whose primay purpose is to intensify the spiritual/pscyhic relationship between 2 soul mates (of opposite sex) for which, as in all things, we are to be thankful and reflective of an authentic spiritual intimacy that Christ has with each individual of His assembly, the Church.

  3. I actually enjoyed the Star Trek episode. Although factually inaccurate about the no sex, no labour issue and emotionally inaccurate about the inability for 2 persons to have passionate love/care for each other without physical intimacy, it posits an interesting choice. Is it better to live in thoughtless innocence as claimed or as I would claim, to reason with God without having to personally experience the truth of good/evil by facing the consequences or to have to struggle and thereby develop the faculties of intellect, wisdom and passion through experiencing those consequences.

  4. "Most early commentators held with St. Augustine that there was no such thing as sex until the first couple sinned, “and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Augustine took that as meaning they could now see what had not existed before: sexual arousal."

    No, no, no. Augustine certainly affirmed sex and sexual arousal as part of the natural human condition. He just postulated that someone without original sin (such as adam and eve before the fall) would have complete control over their sexual impulses and always use those impulses properly rather than abusively.

    • Sorry to disagree. I think you have to read his works for yourself. Sex in the Garden of Eden before the fall was a rational act of will for the purposes of procreation. In his words, the fury of sexual drive occurred after the fall.

      Augustine did not differ between legitimate sexual desire and lust as we do or the original Hebrew/Greek did. All sexual desire was shameful. Intent to procreate made holy what was shameful. Fulfilling the marriage debt was made holy in the one who filled the duty to the spouse who sought it because they couldn't contain. The person who sought sex without positive intent to procreate (another words didn't even didn't think about it) committed venial sin.
      Augustine is pretty clearly presents it like this. Do you need source reference?

      • I've read lots of Augustine thanks.

        Augustine was quite aware of the command to be fruitful and multiply, and the teleological reason for sexuality. It was not that procreation made shameful sex holy, it was that lust corrupted the procreative virtue of sexual intercourse.

        I'll agree that Augustine thought that sex without positive intent to procreate was immoral. My point about Augustine believing in sexual relations and desire before the fall remains. Yes there was sex, but the idea was that an unfallen human being would have control of his sexual impulses. This is contrary to what is written in the article, where Augustine believed there was no sex before the fall.

        • Actually, I'll mollify that last bit about Augustine thinking that sex without positive intent to procreate. He did think that sex had a purpose other than procreation, that of promoting union between couples. For example, when a couple was too elderly to conceive but were able to have sexual relations, the bonding experience was still valid and sex was still moral. He did however, think that sex was "in its fullness" as it were, if it was directed towards union and procreation both.

          You can see Augustine's thoughts on sex and marriage in its most complete form in:

          Augustine: On the Good of Marriage. You can read a translation here.

          • Ted:

            I have read "On the Good of Marriage" and have much to say on that. However, the issue here is about the nature of sexual relations before the fall. However, my comments are based on the "City of God"

            "That Man's Transgression Did Not Annul the Blessing of Fecundity Pronounced Upon Man Before He Sinned But Infected It with the Disease of Lust."

            "The man, then, would have sown the seed, and the woman received it, as need required, the
            generative organs being moved by the will, not excited by lust."

            In context of everything he writes on the issue of lust, Augustine's definition appears to be of any sexual desire. Adam and Eve would have had sex before the Fall but would not have had to contend with sexual impulses until after the fall. I think the idea that they had mastery of their sexual impulses before the Fall as opposed to not having sexual impulses accompanying coitus at all, is our invention, not the intent of Augustine.

          • As to the jist of Augustine's commentary.

            Yes, he makes note of the union/bonding aspect to sex but you have to admit it is a pretty perfunctory mention. He definitely calls anything conjugal relations other than that with positive intent for procreation, venial sin, made pardonable by the debt of marriage. The spirit of his writings is of such that sex is a cold, inhuman transaction in the tradition of the Stoics, devoid of any emotional/relational purpose and meaning.

            Compare that to John Chrysostom's Homily 20. (Indeed I had dismissed Chrysostom for his rants against the Jews. But noticing his insight and empathy, it is rekindling an interest to determine what of man he was)

  5. Based on Jewish commentary on Genesis and in particular the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, I come to the conclusion that it's a metaphore for the transition from the animal state to Human Consciouness. Btw, the Book of Genesis specifically mentions a second tree in the Garden of Eden but provides no description of it.

    I personally think it's the Tree of Eternal Life.

  6. Correction, "he blames her" (that is correct), "she blames the serpent" – INCORRECT, she simply told the truth (more integrity than the man blaming), Eve was deceived. Check out the Hebrew, Eve states a short crisp sentence of two words, Adam blabs on and even indicts God.

  7. I heard the dude blamed the chick
    I heard the chick blamed the snake
    I heard they were naked when they got busted
    And things haven't been the same round here since.

  8. To continue…

    I would hope that you ought not feel that you have to defend the indefensible in the name of your brand of religion but that you would judge, with complete intellectual integrity, errors and evils as they occur for your own sake (not mine).

    I love Martin Luther as a man of my own heart. However, on so many counts I disagree with details of his theology and being a bit of a Judeophile, had a hard time with his "On the Jews and Their Lies". But I will not whitewash his errors in the name of upholding my side.