Adam & Eve as UFOs (Unidentified Figurative Objects)

January 20, 2010
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Avatar-BiVOT SS Lesson #4

Although our SS lesson for this week presents Adam and Eve as two literal, physical characters, the temple ceremony hints that we can benefit by viewing their story as figurative. I am often dismayed that symbolism, while given lip service, is so little understood in LDS circles. Since the majority of Mormons believe in a literal Adam who will return to the earth in his physical resurrected body and fulfill a major role at Adam-ondi-ahman, there is little reason to investigate the allegorical aspects of the Adam and Eve story. Thus, they have become “unidentified figurative objects” whose symbolic impact is veiled.


What would we find if we began to look at Adam and Eve in allegory? One possibility that appeals to me is to identify Adam, who was created first, as our spirit, or our divinity. Adam was created by God, as was our spirit. Eve was created from man, and can represent the physical being or the human self. The order that they were created, and the fact that Eve is intended as a companion for Adam, implies that Adam is supposed to be in charge. This has nothing to do with the relationships between men and women. Instead, it teaches us that we are to identify with our divinity and follow its intentions. What are the intentions of the spirit part of our being? To become one with the bodily or physical nature so together they can grow in wisdom, express divinity and fulfill God’s plan.

I enjoy looking at Adam and Eve this way because it takes us out of male/female role expectations and places us in a position to embrace the whole spectrum of characteristics described. The same type of exercise is encouraged in Isaiah, where the “daughter of Zion” represents the covenant people, males AND females. Her struggles are not merely feminine foibles, but real challenges faced by everyone who is trying to live a covenant relationship with God.

Several religious traditions accept the Adam and Eve story as containing important religious symbols. Abdul-Baha (of the Baha’i faith) explained:

“…this story of Adam and Eve who ate from the tree, and their expulsion from Paradise, must be thought of simply as a symbol. It contains divine mysteries and universal meanings, and it is capable of marvelous explanations. Only those who are initiated into mysteries, and those who are near the Court of the All-Powerful, are aware of these secrets. Hence these verses of the Bible have numerous meanings.”

When Nephi investigated the dream of his father Lehi, he was shown the symbolism of the items in the dream, and told what they represented. If we are willing to look at the several items in the Adam and Eve story symbolically, as Abdul-Baha suggests, could we, Nephi-like, be shown meanings which would have great significance to our spiritual path? The items below are found in the Moses 4 account and are very obviously replete with symbolic meaning. I have linked to a variety of sites which may spark further contemplation of their metaphorical meanings:

Do you think Latter-day Saints have become so accustomed to thinking of the Adam and Eve story as literal that they are blinded to the more symbolic meanings? Are you more comfortable studying and/or teaching this story as literal, figurative, or both?

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  • DB

    Literal objects often have symbolic meanings. There is no reason to believe that a real object, person, or event can not or should not have symbolic meaning. There is also no reason to believe that an object, person, or event with great symbolic meaning cannot be real. The scriptures and the gospel are full of symbolism – sometimes in the form of parable and allegory and other times in the form of real objects, events, or actions.

  • http://ndbf.blogspot.com R. Gary

    I’ve seen quite a few articles in the bloggernacle that claim Adam and Eve are not real, but figurative persons. Most are trying to reconcile the natural evolution of man with the scriptural record. This article, on the other hand, reminds us that we can look for figurative meaning in the account without abandoning its reality. I agree that some of the symbolic meaning in the Adam and Eve account is occasionally overshadowed by the reality of Adam and Eve. Thank you for pointing that out.

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Yes, DB, and yes, R. Gary! In fact, I think a major struggle that members face in studying the OT this year is to try to reconcile scientific knowledge with the scriptural record. I wouldn’t want to be teaching this lesson on Sunday– I see it as a potential minefield. I hope you’ll all come back to this thread and report on how this lesson is taught and received in your various wards. I’ll bet there will be a great variety of approaches.

  • Last Lemming

    The notion that those of us with brains large enough to process the concepts of right and wrong are all descended from a single ancestor (either Adam or Eve) who was the first to have that characteristic is not only possible, but almost certain. Because literal Adam or Eve can be correctly characterized as our first ancestor to become accountable for his/her actions, I don’t agree with the emphasis on claiming that they were figurative. The Garden of Eden and its trappings, on the other hand, are unlikely to have a literal counterpart that anyone would recognize, so I would emphasize their figurative nature instead.

    As for your specific interpretation (Adam=spiritual, Eve=physical), I thought that the Michael/Adam relationship had that covered.

  • Mike S

    #3: I think it will be taught like every other lesson in the Church. Only approved and correlated information from the manual will be taught. Any attempts at reconciling it will science will be completely ignored. It will be another fluffy lesson.

  • N.

    Do you think Latter-day Saints have become so accustomed to thinking of the Adam and Eve story as literal that they are blinded to the more symbolic meanings?

    Yes, I think they are often too focused on the literality of events to see anything else. I am constantly surprised at how often I run across people who think of the creation story in the temple as *only* a history lesson. (Digression: There are, I believe, some very clear indicators from the endowment itself that the story *isn’t* to be taken as such.)
    I think people want to err on the side of literalism because it’s clearer and less work and less messy than a multifaceted view. It becomes the common currency or least common denominator for scriptural understanding of the story.

    Are you more comfortable studying and/or teaching this story as literal, figurative, or both?

    I try to teach it as both. Well that’s not strictly true. I don’t think it is *necessary* for the story to be literal in any way, but if it is then so be it. I think the *necessity* of the story is to *learn the lessons* of the story. In other words, its literalness isn’t important.
    As a teaching tool, I think one can find in the story great insight into the human condition and any particular human’s relationship with God and mortal life. Whether those Truths got into the story by factual account or not is at best of secondary consideration.

  • Jeff Spector

    Seems to me whether they are literal or not is irrelevant to us at this point. The symbolism of what they represent is what we study now. Just like the pioneers. While the actual events and circumstances are interesting to us, the symbolism of their commitment to the Lord and the Church is the the important lesson of what they endured.

    Also, I do not think the science conflicts with the creation account, only a limited, narrow view of reality does that. And a strict, narrow-mided interpretation of scriptures as well.

  • DB

    “Are you more comfortable studying and/or teaching this story as literal, figurative, or both?”

    Neither. At least not in the meaningless literal matter in which it’s usually taught. The significance of the story of the Fall (the Adam and Eve story) is how it fits into the plan of salvation. Teaching it as historical narrative is fine if you’re teaching Primary, but in an adult Sunday School class, if it’s not taught as an integral part of the plan of salvation and not explained how and why it’s an integral part of the plan of salvation, there’s no point in teaching it at all. Unfortunately, the Sunday School manual covers the Fall in one measly little paragraph and provides no explanation about how and why it’s an essential part of the plan of salvation.

  • http://thirdwavemormon.blogspot.com Madam Curie

    Interesting that we as Mormons take the creation story so literally, when Judaism does not.

  • CS Eric

    I think the problem, if there is one, comes from people trying to make the scriptures something they aren’t. The main thing they aren’t is science textbooks. The Bible is not a biology textbook, a geology textbook, or even an astronomy textbook. Was Adam literally made of mud from the Garden of Eden, like an animated Play-Do figure? Was Eve really made out of his rib bones? Probably not, but the symbolism in those images is powerful. Did Adam really give names to every creature in the world? Even if he did, what was the point? After the languages were changed at Babel, those names have long been forgotten.

    Rather than treat the Bible as a scientific textbook, I think it is much more useful to consider it more as the kind of book it claims to be: a record of God’s dealing with mankind. He gave us the earth (or Adam the Garden of Eden) to till and to take care of. We are to be fruitful, and mulitply. God teaches us, gives us commandments, and made it possible for us to go back into His presence. None of those things requires a New Earth, an Old Earth–just an Earth for us to live on according to His plan.

  • http://www.listentowhoiam.blogspot.com Jon

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of opposing ideas, the idea that Adam and Eve were commanded to multipy and replenish the earth but couldn’t do that unless they partook of the tree of life, which they were commanded not to do. Or the idea of Nephi slaying Laban. I think we could learn a lot by learning to embrace and integrate opposing ideas, transcending the back and forth of simple good vs. evil arguments. Take seemingly opposite ideas and open mindedly explore both to find the truth that lies somewhere between.

  • http://mormonmd.wordpress.com Doc

    I don’t understand why the concept of both the symbolic and the literal being true is so difficult for some people. We teach that Moses was a type of the Savior. What on Earth is the difference in taking a look at the symbolism in the story of the Fall. The Jews have taught it that way for centuries, as much as Nephi disdained this perspective, I have to believe it has a place.

  • Jeff Spector

    Doc, 12

    “The Jews have taught it that way for centuries, as much as Nephi disdained this perspective, I have to believe it has a place.” But if the Jews got the Messiah thing wrong, why would they have this right?

  • Teresa Marie

    Personally, I think it depends on the person. I’m familiar with people who believe each way, and some who believe both. As far as seeing things symbolically, I think part of that might be possibly linked to things such as one’s personality type, if you give any credence to things like the Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator, etc. Some people are more into symbolism and others are more into the concrete. Just a few rambling thoughts…

  • Teresa Marie

    To Bored in Vernal: Considering that the culture of the time when the records were being put together was very strong in symbolism and parable, if one takes those things into account, there’s not as much discrepancy as one would think with science and the old testament (or new).

    To Jeff Spector: Just because they got some things wrong doesn’t mean they can’t have some things right. And, it is helpful to be aware of the context of where the stories come from, and that does involve the culture that brought it to our attention.

  • Jeff Spector

    #15,

    “And, it is helpful to be aware of the context of where the stories come from, and that does involve the culture that brought it to our attention.”

    And the context is…..???

  • Genevieve

    Interesting implications…if Adam represented our spirit and Eve our body, what would eating the fruit play out like. Our spirits were tempted by Satan first, then our bodies…hmmm fascinating. I like it alot…now how to blindside my gospel doctrine teacher with this and get some comments from the class before “we have to get back to the lesson”

  • Cowboy

    Jeff (#07):

    I find myself agreeing with you a lot lately. I think a slipperly slope fallacy we find ourselves in as members of the Church, is the idea that we must individually have the truth to lifes greates mysteries, such as the origin of man, by virtue of our assumption that we belong to the true Church. I have always liked the statement (I can’t remember who said it) from Church leaders, that true science and true religion will always agree.

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Gen, you mean our bodies were tempted first–in this figurative representation the natural (hu)man is the one who is tempted, and the spirit often follows. This results in us being cast out of the presence of God. We should learn to yield to the spirit (desire should be to our husband/spirit part of us).

  • Zillah

    One of my great frustrations with SS lessons is that the emphasis is so often on the historical events presented in whichever Scriptural book we happen to be reading that day, without any expansion of the discussion to ideas which I find relevant to my life. One must know the letter to ascend to the spirit, but the letter itself killeth, right?

    That said, I think that one of the reasons why LDS are so wary of figurative readings of Scripture, aside from passages that we feel are clearly marked as “symbolic” and that we then read according to a very set interpretation, is our general association with Protestantism, rather than Catholicism. Martin Luther and other early reformers like Wycliffe renounced the elaborate (usually four-fold) exegetical systems of the medieval Catholic church, and insisted on a literal reading of scripture (never mind that his understanding of “literal” also included a hefty dose of the figural). I think that attitude is a not insignificant part of our religious culture. We’re wary of going too far afield, as if the further you move from discussions of the literal, the more you intrinsically repudiate the historical reality of the events in the text. Additionally, the act of interpretation is intimidating: what if you get it “wrong”?

    I think this attitude is a shame, and impoverishes our understanding and relationship with the Scriptures. Incorporating figurative reading into one’s Scriptural study opens up the text, leading not only to more nuanced and perhaps deeper understanding of principles, but also perhaps a more personal relationship to the Scriptures. Of course, the danger has always been that then there are a whole lot of unauthorized interpretations floating around, but we do profess to believe in personal revelation and the inspiration of the Spirit for the individual…

    But perhaps my (long-winded) feelings on the matter just stem from a personal desire for the rehabilitation of the Song of Solomon.

  • Brent Hartman

    Was Eve really created from man? It seems to me that she would have been created in the same way that Adam was created. From the union of a God and a Goddess. Eve, like Adam, was brought into existence through a mother, with a little help from a father.

    My wife, being at the end of a pregnancy, reminds me of how little I actually contribute the the creation of a child. I don’t doubt it’s any different with heavenly parents.

    I’ve always viewed Eve as being more on the “spirit” side of things. She’s the Mother of the human family. There to comfort us, to nurture us, to teach us, and to be our guide. Eve was also the first to sacrifice her immortality so that her spirit children could enter into mortality. It was a woman who was first to lay down her life for this earth.

    I think the creation account that was revealed by Brigham Young and Eliza R. Snow, is, as sister Eliza puts it, the “key of knowledge” in understanding the creation story, and all it’s symbolism.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Smith Agent Smith

    How many more miles are we to travel down this narrow path?

  • hawkgrrrl

    BiV – another great installment. Personally, I think that literalists are probably about half the population anyway, but at church, they are probably more like 85%, with those who appreciate myth and metaphor at a mere 15%. It’s one reason that I think we fall a little short when people say you should take the temple symbolically, but then no one is actually capable of explaining it symbolically.

    Some literalists are very invested in their literalism and view metaphorical interpretations as heretical, perhaps because they can’t comprehend them or control the messages. Another root cause is that we are told to liken the scriptures to ourselves. This generally includes thinking of Adam and Eve as if they were your next door neighbors but without belly buttons.

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Zillah, me too, me too, and me too. I will have to learn more about the “four fold exegetical system of the medieval Catholic Church”–sounds fascinating!
    Hawkgrrl, We do need to be trained somewhat in seeing the symbols in things. I think this needs to be done much more in SS, so that when we hit the Temple, we can make some sense of it.

  • DB

    “I am often dismayed that symbolism, while given lip service, is so little understood in LDS circles.”

    I feel the same way about the Fall itself. Sunday school and other church materials give it little more than lip service focusing on “because of the Fall” rather than the “Fall”. Take another look at the chapter in the Sunday school manual you’ve referenced. The lesson has three parts. The Fall is discussed in part 1 but only in the first paragraph. The rest of part 1 discusses the “results of the Fall”. Part 2 discusses the Atonement and part 3 discusses Adam and Eve’s life in mortality. The Fall gets one little paragraph in the entire manual. We get plenty of discussion on “because of the Fall” and plenty of discussion on the Atonement but what about the Fall itself? We get some discussion on why the Atonement but never any discussion on why the Fall. There is always too much what and not enough why in gospel discussions. My suggestion to anyone attending the Gospel Doctrine class this Sunday (or any Sunday for that matter) is not to ask about the symbolism of the topic or how it is reconciled with scientific knowledge but just why, why, and why followed by a couple more whys. Ask the other stuff once the whys have been thoroughly discussed.

    I tend to focus mainly on the what and why of the scriptures and am really not that into the symbolism of scriptures unless the symbolism is the what or the why. Since this post is on the symbolism of the Fall, I wonder why anyone would expect the symbolism of that event to ever be discussed in the church when we barely discuss the event itself? If we don’t study the what and why of something, how can we ever understand any symbolism behind it? This is one reason why Sunday school is so boring. We give such superficial coverage to such important topics.

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Readers, if you had this lesson on Sunday, I hope you will share the ideas that were taught in your ward!

  • Anonymous

    Oh my, Bored in Vernal. Why? Why? Why? You have done to Adam and Eve much what the Christian world has done with God – made Him a mystical floating fog – and for the same reason, too. They understand neither God nor the Eden incident and the members of the Lord’s Church haven’t been any help either. The main theme that comes out of what happened in Eden is obedience to God. I think I posted this sometime in the past – it’s something I call the Basic Assumption. I t says this: Regardless of the existence of an event in space and time, that event cannot be of such a nature that, in the taking place of that event, it would be better not to follow the directive of God concerning it.BiV, the Basic Assumption is true. If you start believing that God, even sometimes, requires disobedience, then it won’t be long before Gospel understanding will start collapsing and soon nothing will make any sense.Teaching that God needs disobedience is hideous. Yet it’s epidemic in the Church. The members teach it because they just can’t justify the physical story. Teaching the wrong thing because a teacher can’t figure out the right thing is a poor reason to teach the wrong thing.BiV, believe that God can’t possibly require disobedience. This is, absolutely, required to understanding what happened in Eden. Believe in the physical Adam and Eve and than start working out the problems. And there are a lot of them.

  • Anonymous

    Oh my, Bored in Vernal. Why? Why? Why? You have done to Adam and Eve much what the Christian world has done with God – made Him a mystical floating fog – and for the same reason, too. They understand neither God nor the Eden incident and the members of the Lord’s Church haven’t been any help either. The main theme that comes out of what happened in Eden is obedience to God. I think I posted this sometime in the past – it’s something I call the Basic Assumption. I t says this: Regardless of the existence of an event in space and time, that event cannot be of such a nature that, in the taking place of that event, it would be better not to follow the directive of God concerning it.BiV, the Basic Assumption is true. If you start believing that God, even sometimes, requires disobedience, then it won’t be long before Gospel understanding will start collapsing and soon nothing will make any sense.Teaching that God needs disobedience is hideous. Yet it’s epidemic in the Church. The members teach it because they just can’t justify the physical story. Teaching the wrong thing because a teacher can’t figure out the right thing is a poor reason to teach the wrong thing.BiV, believe that God can’t possibly require disobedience. This is, absolutely, required to understanding what happened in Eden. Believe in the physical Adam and Eve and than start working out the problems. And there are a lot of them.

  • Quigley

    Do not
    overlook the Tree and the Snake in the story: There you can see what Taoism
    calls the shift from wu chi or unmanifest karma, to tai chi, or action in time.
    Adam and Eve represent then the yin and the yang entering time, the Tree and
    Snake cosmic expressions, Adam and Eve external manifestations of the cosmic.

    RE UFOs:
    Mormons should be fully familiar with Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung’s
    manuscript: “UFOs a Modern Myth of things seen in the sky.” Jung writes that we
    enter a new age in the zodiac, the Age of Aquarius. And just as the previous
    age, Pisces was marked by the birth of the Christ it was indicated by the
    dreams and apparitions of Angels. Today, UFOs should be seen as the same kind
    of indicators, marking the rise of a new realm, in my opinion no doubt led  by Mormons. If you Google “map UFOs” and “map
    Mormons” they precisely overlap; the “angels” this time mark the rise of the indigenous
    visions in the desert and the rise of Mormon.

    If you take
    a look at my web site Water Wood and a Wolf on one of the pages I have pictures
    of UFOs and how they form oculus architecture precisely like that in the Hagia
    Sophia and the earliest churches of Christianity.

    Hollywood
    portrays outer space creatures with big oval-shaped heads and skinny torso:
    This represents a fear of the unconscious as our minds rise from earth to space
    in the 20th century. Mormons view as “brothers and sisters.” This is
    the way the Cullen family is portrayed in the Twilight series; it represents
    the human race becoming accommodated to space and opens the gate to Mormons
    influence and ideas. We see that now in the rise of Romney and Huntsman and the
    “anti-cult” Evangelicals losing their influence.