III. The Result
When people are not given reasons for what they are to do or avoid, they become more vulnerable to attack. Because the human mind wants to know reasons, desires explanations, and often wants all the gory (or glorious) details, our mind is particularly susceptible to a plausible alternative explanation of something that is placed before us. We can simply reject the alternative explanation, but if it has an air of verisimilitude, we often provisionally either adopt it or at least want to listen to further explanation before making an ultimate decision. In short, what the serpent's explanation does is not to create doubt, for a small piece of doubt already exists when any command is given without explanation, but to exploit and explore doubt. His first words act as a sort of wake-up call--'that's not the way life is.' Then, he gives his explanation.
Indeed, upon reading the explanation you see how plausible it is. The serpent's explanation is that God is a jealous God (well, doesn't God say the same thing about the Divine later on in the Bible?); that God wants to keep a distinction between the creature and God, that God wants to keep some mysteries unexplored by the human being. Because God hasn't given any reason for the prohibition, the field is completely open for the serpent to add in anything it wants. God doesn't respond; God relies on the command itself.
So, what's a woman to do? Maybe she should have called Adam and had a committee meeting on the subject. But, since we see in v. 6 that he was already "with her" and that he willingly took the fruit she offered, he probably would have been about as much help as a machete fighting machine guns. In other words, he's useless. What are the sources of her knowledge at this time? She has the command of God, probably mediated to her through her husband. She has the contrary word of the serpent, with an explanation that has an air of plausibility to it. She has her own mind and senses. So, she decides to follow through and eat the fruit. The rest, as they say, is history.
IV. Casting Blame
I will never forget my first acquaintance with St. Augustine, that great 4th-5th century Christian father. In my undergraduate days we read his little work Enchiridion--the Handbook (of Christian Doctrine). It was in this work that I first became acquainted with the way a theologian dealt with this Genesis narrative. Before the Fall Adam faced a dilemma:
1. Posse peccare, posse non peccare (we can sin or not sin).
But then, the first couple "fell," according to Augustine. So, the results were:
2. Non posse non peccare (we can't help sinning).
The ultimate result, in glory will be a transformed state,
3. Non posse peccare (we can't sin).
Now, more than 35 years after first becoming acquainted with Augustine on this passage, I see that he was as much a prisoner to his rhetorical brilliance as was the Apostle Paul in Romans 5. Augustine's brilliance lay in the way that he could construct catchy sentences, building off sounds and structure of words to try to present Biblical truth. Indeed, he had been a professor of rhetoric in Milan (Italy) before his conversion to Christianity; his skills "carried over" quite nicely when he became a Christian.
But his skills come at the expense of the text. For what we have here, ultimately, is not a "Fall" story, or the story of humankind's selfish disobedience to the divine command (or, to put it better, that is only one way of looking at the story). What we have is a multi-layered drama where every character uses his or her power to try to understand and act in the world. The strongest point left in my mind, however, is that God left open too many interpretive possibilities through the manner in which God gave the command. First, by giving the command permitting the eating of everything before limiting it in the next sentence--by prohibiting consumption of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God was opening the Divine words to the serpent's clever reading of them in 3:2. Then, by not giving a reason for the command, a strange one at that, God was providing the occasion for doubt to arise, a doubt that skillfully was explored by the serpent. Indeed, Eve was seemingly willing to take the divine command even one step further than what God had intended (not even touch the tree), but here problem was that she was only human--and humans need reasons.
It isn't enough for a woman just to live with a man; she needs to be told she is loved. But, in my experience, it isn't even enough for a woman to be told she is loved; she has to be told reasons. Not every day. Not every time. But often enough. Eve needed some reasons. There were none. Then, when skillful contrary explanations arose, she found herself drawn to them. When she then applied her sensual and intellectual skills to the problem, she decided that the serpent might be saying something correct. So, she ate. Why blame her? The blame, if that is the way we want to look at it, doesn't rest with her. Or, with the serpent, for that matter. He was just being serpentine. The fault, dear reader, is not in the woman, or the man, or the serpent...