National Geographic explores notable biblical figures in our ongoing series People in the Bible, as part of our coverage of the history of the Bible and the search for sacred texts.
The man called Adam was created when God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Therefore, Adam was created from the soil, which is actually reflected in his name. While the word “Adam” means “man,” the root of the name, adama in Hebrew, means “earth.”
The Lord then planted a garden in Eden, with “every tree that is pleasant for the sight and good for food,” and in this garden “he put the man whom he had formed” so that Adam could dwell there and find nourishment (Genesis 2:8-9). Many centuries later during the exile, when the Genesis tradition came under Persian influence, the Garden of Eden acquired a new name: Paradise. The term is rooted in the Old Persian word pardis, which means “walled (or protected) enclosure,” usually referring to parklike estates maintained for the king’s comfort.
The Garden of Eden had many trees, and Adam was encouraged to eat from every branch, except from the so-called “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” “In the day that you eat of it,” God warned, “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). As long as Adam was content to live in a state of perpetual innocence, all of his physical needs would be met. It then fell on Adam to choose an appropriate name for every species that God presented to him (Genesis 2:20). By naming the elements of creation, Adam welcomed and embraced all of the living creatures and gave them their place in nature. Learn the history of the “forbidden” fruit.
But Adam was lonely. God recognized this, and caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He then took one of Adam’s ribs from him, which he fashioned into a woman, who was called Eve (Genesis 2:21-22). Adam was delighted with his new mate. They were both naked, but their innocence prevented them from experiencing shame, or knowing good and evil.
Soon, however, a serpent came slithering onto the scene. He slyly revealed why God didn’t want Adam and Eve to partake from the forbidden tree: “for God knows that on the day you eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:3-5). Eve succumbed to the serpent’s temptation. She ate from the tree, and made sure that Adam did as well. “And then,” says Genesis, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). For this transgression, they were evicted from Paradise. Devoid of their earlier childlike innocence, Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness. They became man and wife. In due course, Eve gave birth to her first son, named Cain. See how the book of Genisis inspired Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.
The Eden story underscores the fact that human existence is merely an “exile” from a primordial state of divine perfection. Indeed, the “fall of man,” the expulsion from the Garden, marks the loss of innocence that was only redeemed by God’s later covenant with Abraham and Moses.
Entries in this series are excerpts from the National Geographic special issue 50 Most Influential Figures of the Bible, which was adapted from Who's Who in the Bible: Unforgettable People and Timeless Stories from Genesis to Revelation, published by National Geographic Books.