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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan-18 > Enter the serpent

Enter the serpent

The Biblical story of Adam and Eve has left us with a legacy of sexual shame, argues Miri Rubin
Of man’s first disobedience: is Adam helping Eve or trying to prevent her from grabbing the forbidden fruit in Titian’s Adam and Eve? (c 1550)
© TITIAN (TIZIANO VECELLIO) (C.1488-1576) / PRADO, MADRID, SPAIN / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
The Rise and Fall of Adam & Eve by Stephen Greenblatt (Bodley Head, £25)

The recent revelations of historical sexual abuse and harassment by men in powerful positions mean we are now thinking a lot harder about the relations between men and women. While Stephen Greenblatt’s new book is a reflection on the nature of storytelling in human history, rather than a polemical sally about male-female relations, it did make me consider how we might have got to the latest wave of gender trouble.

The story of Adam and Eve is our founding myth. It begins with a man and a woman created to live in a garden where they are provided with all they need to eat; they feel no shame, fear no one. It goes on to an act of folly—or curiosity. They transgress the only rule laid down by God: to leave the fruit of the tree of wisdom alone. Satan, in the form of a snake, tricks Eve into eating the fruit, and she in turn convinces Adam to do the same. For this they are both expelled from the garden and forced to live in toil and shame—a legacy passed down the generations. This biblical story has for centuries been read as an allegory for sexual desire, and has perpetuated an obsession with thinking of men and women as being inevitably bound by sex: its glorious fulfilment, its bitter deceits.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January 2018 issue: Five writers attempt to plot the impending advances in shopping, politics, sex, food and computing through 2018. James Plunkett looks at shopping and explains how personalised prices will hand even more power to the big companies; Theo Bertram outlines why political volatility is here to stay and what it means for us; Kate Devlin argues that sex robots are only a part of the impending sexual revolution; Stephanie Boland outlines why we’ll all end up eating lab grown food; and Jay Elwes explains the next steps in our computing quantum leap. Elsewhere in the issue: Dani Rodrik uncovers the truth behind the great globalisation lie—there were always going to be losers, Iona Craig delves into the war in Yemen—the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, Chris Tilbury explains why Britain urgently needs a plan for its failing prisons