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What’s going on here is something wholly new. These aren’t raiding parties. These aren’t people drawing a line and baring their teeth at us to make sure we know they’re there. These guys are saying . . . Our brothers from the north are saying that we’ve got to die. They’re saying Abel has to be wiped out. They’re saying we’re not to be allowed to live. Now that’s something new, and we don’t get it. Why can’t they live up there and be farmers and let us live down here and be herders? Why do they have to murder us?’
‘Something really weird must have happened up there to turn these people into murderers. What could it have been? Wait, a second . . . Look at the way these people live. Nobody has ever lived this way before. They’re not just saying that we have to die. They’re saying that everything has to die. They’re not just killing us, they’re killing everything. They’re saying, “Okay, lions, you’re dead. We’ve had it with you. You’re out of here.” They’re saying, “Okay, wolves, we’ve had it with you too. You’re out of here.” They’re saying . . . “Nobody eats but us. All this food belongs to us and no one else can have any without our permission.” They’re saying, “What we want to live lives and what we want to die dies.”
“ ‘That’s it! They’re acting as if they were the gods themselves. They’re acting as if they eat at the gods’ own tree of wisdom, as though they were as wise as the gods and could send life and death wherever they please. Yes, that’s it. That’s what must have happened up there. These people found the gods’ own tree of wisdom and stole some of its fruit.
“ ‘Aha! Right! These are an accursed people! You can see that right off the bat. When the gods found out what they’d done, they said, “Okay, you wretched people, that’s it for you! We’re not taking care of you anymore. You’re out. We banish you from the garden. From now on, instead of living on our bounty, you can wrest your food from the ground by the sweat of your brows.” And that’s how these accursed tillers of the soil came to be hunting us down and watering their fields with our blood.’ ”
Ah,” said the other, “but possessed of this arrogant foolishness, would Adam survive into maturity ?
Believing himself our equal, he would be capable of anything. In his arrogance, he might look around the garden and say to himself, ‘ This is all wrong. Why should I have to share the fire of life with all these creatures? Look here, the lions and the wolves and the foxes take the game I would have for myself. This is evil. I will kill all these creatures, and this will be good. And look here, the rabbits and the grasshoppers and the sparrows take the fruits of the land that I would have for myself. This is evil. I will kill all these creatures, and this will be good. And look here, the gods have set a limit on my growth just as they’ve set a limit on the growth of all others. This is evil. I will grow without limit, taking all the fire of life that flows through this garden into myself, and that will be good.’
Tell me—if this should happen, how long would Adam live before he had devoured the entire world?”
“If this should happen,” the others said, “Adam would devour the world in a single day, and at the end of that day he would devour himself.”
“Just so,” the other said, “unless he managed to escape from this world. Then he would devour the entire universe as he had devoured the world. But even so he would inevitably end by devouring himself, as anything must that grows without limit.”
“This would indeed be a terrible end for Adam,” another said. “But might he not come to the same end even without having eaten at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Might he not be tempted by his yearning for growth to take the fire of life into his own hands even without deluding himself that this was good?”
“He might,” the others agreed.
“But what would be the result? He would become a criminal, an outlaw, a thief of life, and a murderer of the creatures around him. Without the delusion that what he was doing was good—and therefore to be done at any cost—he would soon weary of the outlaw’s life. Indeed this is bound to happen during his quest for the Tree of Life. But if he should eat of the tree of our knowledge, then he will shrug off his weariness. He will say, ‘What does it matter that I’m weary of living as a murderer of all the life around me? I know good and evil, and this way of living is good. Therefore I must live this way even though I’m weary unto death, even though I destroy the world and even myself. The gods wrote in the world a law for all to follow, but it cannot apply to me because I’m their equal. Therefore I will live outside this law and grow without limit. To be limited is evil. I will steal the fire of life from the hands of the gods and heap it up for my growth, and that will be good. I will destroy those kinds that do not serve my growth, and that will be good. I will wrest the garden from the hands of the gods and order it anew so that it serves only my growth, and that will be good. And because these things are good, they must be done at any cost. It may be that I’ll destroy the garden and make a ruin of it. It may be that my progeny will teem over the earth like locusts, stripping it bare, until they drown in their own filth and hate the very sight of one another and go mad. Still they must go on, because to grow without limit is good and to accept the limits of the law is evil. And if any say, “Let’s put off the burdens of the criminal life and live in the hands of the gods once again,” I will kill them, for what they say is evil. And if any say, “Let’s turn aside from our misery and search for that other tree,” I will kill them, for what they say is evil. And when at last all the garden has been subjugated to my use and all kinds that do not serve my growth have been cast aside and all the fire of life in the world flows through my progeny, still I must grow. And to the people of this land I will say, “Grow, for this is good,” and they will grow. And to the people of the next land I will say, “Grow, for this is good,” and they will grow. And when they can grow no more, the people of this land will fall upon the people of the next to murder them, so that they may grow still more. And if the groans of my progeny fill the air throughout the world, I will say to them, “Your sufferings must be borne, for you suffer in the cause of good. See how great we have become! Wielding the knowledge of good and evil, we have made ourselves the masters of the world, and the gods have no power over us. Though your groans fill the air, isn’t it sweeter to live in our own hands than in the hands of the gods?” ’ ”
And when the gods heard all this, they saw that, of all the trees in the garden, only the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil could destroy Adam. And so they said to him, “You may eat of every tree in the garden save the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for on the day you eat of that tree you will certainly die.”