I am a member of a Facebook group called The Ark. It is a Torah study group headed by Rabbi Pinchas Taylor. Every other week the Rabbi hosts an “Ask The Rabbi” segment where you can post your questions for him and he will answer them in a video. This week we studied about Adam and Eve, and he presented his teachings that they were not subject to death before the fall. Thus, the question arose in my mind. Were Adam and Eve created immortal? Before I give the exact text of my question, allow me to quote his answer for you. Unfortunately, I can’t post the video because it is a private group.
Adam and Eve are commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and God says to them “if you do eat of it you shall surely die”. This person asks “could it be that they were created mortals, but the Tree of Life was somehow rejuvenating for them, and that it kept them going”? Well, no. The idea is that they were not created as mortals. They were created to live forever. The idea that on that day you shall surely die is not meant to mean that you will die on that day, but that the ability to die will be instituted on that day. Meaning that they will become mortal, and that is actually what happened. So that would be the correct understanding of it based on what actually took place.Rabbi Pinchas Taylor
Of course the irony was not lost upon me of his use of correct understanding. Meaning, the orthodox view. Right thinking. However, if you pay close attention to the answer, that isn’t what actually took place. Notice, he says “Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat. However, it is Adam alone who was instructed not to eat of the fruit in Genesis 2:16-17. Moreover, this is before Eve was formed from his side. But my real question derived from the language used in verse 17. Here was my question as posted.
Dying you will die…
My understanding of the Hebrew is that Hashem told Adam “dying you will die”. Is it possible that they were created mortal, but eating the tree of life allowed them to rejuvenate? In other words, dying they would live. But once they ate the fruit and lost access, dying they will die. Is this a plausible scenario to explain why they didn’t die in that day?
Here is the Hebrew in question, pictured below.
The relevant words are in red. Hebrew is of course read right to left. Notice that the consonants of the first word are the same as the last 3 consonants of the second word. The first word is the root of the second word. What we have here transliterates as “mowt tamut”. It is translated as “surely you will die”. But it could as easily be translated as “dying you will die” or “die to die”. Mowt is almost always translated as “surely” in the Old Testament or Tanakh, but it is only used in relation to dying because it literally means die.
Now perhaps there is a valid reason for this. I’m far from a Hebrew expert. However, I can see where using the same word twice for emphasis could be translated as “surely”. But it is possible to read this another way. Thus, we must get into the tree of life to understand why I really asked the question. So first, let’s consider the trees and their fruit as analogies rather than biological specimens.
If the Trees of Life and Knowledge are allegorical, than there is no actual tree or fruit and my question is rendered moot. To be fair, I believe they are. Whatever the sin of Adam and Eve was, I don’t believe that they literally ate a piece of fruit. I believe their decision to eat represents a decision to make their own relationship and existence preeminent over their relationship with Hashem and his existence. That’s just my view, and of course I can’t back that up Biblically. So let’s consider his literal view, and see if it can be backed up Biblically.
Were Adam and Eve created immortal?
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”Genesis 3:22
We see from Genesis 3:22 that eating from the tree of life would cause one to live forever. Moreover, we know that God made two trees. So assuming that He made Adam and Eve immortal, what is the use for the tree of life? The only possible answer is that he knew that eating from the Tree of Knowledge would end their immortality. Hence, he must have created the Tree of Life to restore them to their immortal state if they fell from it after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. However, we know this can’t be the case because he restricts them from the tree after they lose their immortality. This requires us to believe one of the following things.
- He didn’t think this scenario through before creating the Tree of Life.
- He created the tree in case they sinned, but changed his mind after seeing that they did sin.
- Adam and Eve weren’t biologically immortal, but were rather mortal beings whose lives could have been sustained indefinitely by eating the fruit from the Tree of Life.
Given these options, I chose the third one. Moreover, this could be transmitted in the statement that Hashem made to Adam about eating the fruit. From birth we are all dying. If, however, we had a fountain of youth, our lives could be rejuvenated and extended indefinitely. We would still be dying. However, we would avoid death. In other words, dying we would live. If suddenly our access to that fountain were cut off, we would continue to die until we actually did die. Practically stated, dying we would die. From our perspective, when would that process of dying actually begin? In the day that we lost access to the fountain of youth.
Let’s apply this understanding to what God told Adam.
In the day that you eat the fruit of knowledge, dying you will die. If Adam was previously immortal, than prior to eating the fruit the Tree of Life had no value to him. However, this tree was placed in the middle of the garden according to Genesis 2:9. It doesn’t seem to be an insignificant specimen. If the tree only had value after eating the fruit, yet access to it was immediately restricted, this presents a huge problem. To be generous, God was thoughtless in creating the tree. However, wouldn’t this actually be deceptive? Perhaps Adam thought to himself “No problem. I’ll eat the fruit of knowledge then eat the fruit of life and get the best of both worlds.”
None of these things are congruous with my view of God. Moreover, none of them are necessary to the story, nor are they explicitly taught in the story. Nowhere in Genesis 1 nor 2 do we read that Adam was created immortal. We presume that since death followed his sin as a natural consequence. However, the passage is read much more smoothly if we make no such presumption. God created Adam as a mortal being. His life would be sustained by eating the fruit of the tree that God created for this purpose. Adam chose to focus on his own desires instead of God’s. As a result, God blocked his access to the tree that could sustain his life indefinitely. Thus, in the day that he ate thereof, dying he did die.