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Is the doctrine of “Original Sin” warranted in the Tanakh or in Jewish tradition?

Is the doctrine of “Original Sin” warranted in the Tanakh or in Jewish tradition? The question is more complex than it might seem; obviously, if Christian scholars cannot agree on what constitutes “Original Sin,” why should it matter what Jewish scholars or texts have to say about this question? Here is a short summary to consider:

As a rule, rabbinic tradition did not subscribe to the Christian description of Genesis 3 as the “Fall,”–a term which does not appear at all in this famous story. As well, the Sages rejected the interpretations found in the Pseudepigraphal writings that intimate the cosmic struggle between God and the legions of the Devil.  However, this theme does appear in the Apocryphal writings, e.g., Sirach 25:23, where the ancient philosopher blames the woman for introducing death to the world. A similar intimation appears in Wisdom of Solomon 2:24, “But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it.”[1]

Note that neither of these passages speak of  “Original Sin” as understood in numerous Christian texts.[2] In fact, from the Christian perspective, Eve becomes the prototype for all women because of her acquiescence to the serpent’s seduction.[3] Jewish exegetical tradition has always felt that the Christian reading committed considerable violence to the text.  In fact, psychologist Theodor Reik (1888-1969) made an amazing observation: “Not before Sirach (200-175 B.C.E.) is there any allusion found to a primeval sin and not before the Apocalypse of Baruch (80-150 C.E.) is there any hint of the story of the Fall that brought upon man the liability of future punishment. Jesus refers neither to the Garden of Eden nor to the Fall.”[4]


Notes:


[1] Some scholars think the passage refers to Cain. Because of the envy he feels toward his brother, he becomes the world’s first murderer. However, in 1 Enoch 69:6, the writer believes that Satan caused Eve to sin. See also 2 Esdr. 3:7-22; 7:118.

[2] See John 1:29; 8:44; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-49; Heb. 9:26.

[3] This would explain why Christians consider Mary, in a sense, the “Second Eve,” much like Jesus becomes the “new Adam.”

[4] Theodor Reik, Myth and Guilt: The Crime and Punishment of Mankind (New York: George Braziller Inc., 1957), 60.



Discussion

  1. Yochanan Lavie  February 4, 2010

    And then John Milton turned the traditional Christian reading on its head with his “fortunate fall” of Paradise Lost:

    The World was all before them, where to choose
    Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
    They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
    Through EDEN took thir solitarie way.

    So ends the epic poem. The world is all before them, and salvation has been promised.

    (reply)

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