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What we can learn about love from Adam and Eve

March 27, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
Adam and Eve could be called the most famous couple in history. In "The First Love Story: Adam, Eve and Us," author Bruce Feiler examines the Bible and archaeology, but also love, relationships, modern technology and more. Feiler joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss how he says the story has been “weaponized” throughout history to villainize women and what we can learn from the story today.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally: a reexamination of a couple whose story has been made even more relevant for our time.

Jeffrey Brown has this latest addition to the “NewsHour” Bookshelf.

JEFFREY BROWN: The most famous couple in history, that’s one way of looking at Adam and Eve, but a useful one if you’re seeking lessons in their story that continue to resonate into our own time.

That’s the tag taken in “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us.”

Author Bruce Feiler writes widely on biblical and other issues. And he was writer and host of the PBS series “Walking the Bible” and “Sacred Journeys.”

Welcome to you.

BRUCE FEILER, Author, “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us”: Nice to be here. Thanks for having me.

JEFFREY BROWN: I wasn’t sure what I was opening up. I expected to see something about the Bible and archaeology. And I did. But you also write about yourself, about relationships, about modern technology.

What were you after in looking at their story?

BRUCE FEILER: What happened to me was, we were on a trip to Rome as a family.

And we — I took my daughters into the Sistine Chapel. And I’m like, listen up, girls. I’m going to blow your mind.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

BRUCE FEILER: And one of them looks up and sees Adam and God sailing across the skies.

JEFFREY BROWN: The famous moment where they’re touching.

BRUCE FEILER: The famous moment, and says, well, you know, where am I in that picture, right?

This is from the point of view of an 8-year-old girl. And her sister points out something I had never seen before, which is Eve underneath God’s arm. And she says, you know, is that Eve?

That’s just when it hit me. And I realized, for 3,000 years, this story has been at the heart of every conversation about men, women and sex. And if I wanted to understand today, maybe I needed to understand them.

And, as absurd as it sounds, I asked myself, might Adam and Eve be the role models that we are looking for?

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, OK, before we — go back to the original Adam and Eve, because you had to, right?

BRUCE FEILER: Yes. Yes, exactly.

You have got the original story that appears in the text in Genesis. And then what you have is organized religion sort of glomming onto the story and entirely reinterpreting it.

And by organized religion, I mean men. And I think that what you have here is a situation where Adam and Eve, but especially Eve, are victims of the greatest character assassination the world has ever known.

Basically, the story was weaponized as a way to elevate men and to hurt women. And you go back to the story, that’s not what you find. So, I mean, I think the first thing, just to sort of set the stage briefly here, is, you have got two stories.

The second story is more famous, right? That’s — you have got Adam being created from the earth, Eve being created Adam, the fruit and getting kicked out of Eden.

But the first story is very different, because, in the first story, you have got man and woman being created in the image of God. What’s true for one is true for the other. The whole story begins in equality. And that’s what got lost in all these interpretations.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the central tenets of your book is that humans were meant to be together, right?

BRUCE FEILER: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: But this is a model for looking at love.

Give me an example for our audience to understand what it is you’re — how you’re bringing their story up to our own time.

BRUCE FEILER: In every other story that comes before, you have got a God, and a God creating humans, or a God and a human.

The biblical story represents a revolution in thought. It’s the first story that has a man and woman at the start of the human line. They have to succeed in order for us to succeed.

So, why are they a model? Because, look, they begin together, and then Eve grows Bored. She wants autonomy. She wants independence. She goes and she eats the fruit. She comes back. She gives Adam a choice. And he has to decide, what do I do? He chooses her. They leave Eden.

They could separate. They stay together and have children. One of them murders the other. They reconcile and have a third.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of my colleagues was looking at the book today, and he said — and I said what I was doing. And he said, you know, this story doesn’t end well, right? There’s the fall. There’s the banishment. There’s all this trouble.

How is that a model?

BRUCE FEILER: It ends brilliantly, because most people think it ends in Eden.

No, they have — they become parents. It doesn’t go well with Cain and Abel. That could be the end of the story. They reconcile, have a third child. It’s incredibly inspirational.

So, what I think the lessons are? Number one, constancy, stick-to-itiveness, right? The modern psychologists tell us that you have to mend relationships. That’s the most important thing. OK?

Then there’s also this incredible balance in the story, this mix of independence and interdependence. It’s incredibly powerful today that didn’t happen again until we re-equalized Eve in the last couple of decades.

But, to me, the biggest idea that I have learned — I basically went in to write a book about Adam and Eve, ended up writing a book about love. And what did I learn? Love is a story you tell with another person. Right? It’s co-creation through co-narration.

And that’s what Adam and Eve embody. And what do we learn from them? When you hit a bump in the road, you have a rupture, you add a new chapter to your story. They are the first to tell a story together and to recognize you need both. Theirs is the first joint byline. And that’s a very powerful lesson for today.

JEFFREY BROWN: The question you ask here is, can Adam and Eve be role models for relationships today? And the answer, apparently, is yes.

BRUCE FEILER: I believe deeply and profoundly.

And more than that, I think that we need the story to work. At this moment, when relationships are commodities, and we let each other down, and our society is being frayed — we all know that — we need our first story to be one of success.

So, essentially, what I’m saying to people is, if you care about men and women and their relationship, if you want to strengthen and deepen your own relationship, if you’re interested in love or religion, come on this journey.

I think, as you have said here, you will be surprised. You will learn something. But, in the end, I think you will be uplifted, because this story works. And, today, we need stories that work at the heart of our culture.

JEFFREY BROWN: The book is “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us.”

Bruce Feiler, thank you very much.

BRUCE FEILER: It’s an honor. Thank you.

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