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Beyond Kafka we are metaphorically confined

The rationale of the expulsion from the paradise called Eden was prophylaxis, the prevention of what mankind desires beyond time, eternity, in which it is allowed uninterruptedly to revel. It’s what the outlawed tree of life would have provided, helping mankind to attain time’s highest level, an ascension hubristically no less absurd than the attempt by builders of a tower to reach Babel’s highest level, Eden and Babel biblical metaphors for hubris that mankind must limit, being by the boundaries of time and space confined.

Gen. 3:22 states:

כב  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, לָדַעַת, טוֹב וָרָע; וְעַתָּה פֶּן-יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ, וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים, וְאָכַל, וָחַי לְעֹלָם.         22 And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.’

Gen. 11:4 states:

ד  וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם:  פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ.   4 And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’

Michael Wood quotes these two aphorisms by Kafka in “Cage in Search of a Bird,”  LRB, 11/17/22, in a review of The Aphorisms of Franz Kafka edited by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch:

Why do we complain about the Fall? That isn’t why we were expelled from Paradise, but on account of the Tree of Life, lest we eat of it.

We are sinful not only because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge but also because we have yet to eat of the Tree of Life. The state in which we find ourselves is sinful, irrespective of guilt.

Michael Wood writes:

‘Have yet to eat’ is wonderful, as is the revision of the old doctrine. Adam and Eve were expelled not because of what they ate but so that they shouldn’t eat something else.

Kafka’s longest entry on the Fall provides a balance sheet of our knowledge of good and evil. The text seems ‘especially complex’, as Stach says, because it involves both knowledge and the idea of going beyond it. The key sentence appears in a parenthesis: ‘This is also the meaning of the threat of death accompanying the prohibition on eating of the Tree of Knowledge; perhaps this is also the original meaning of natural death.’ The suggestion that death has an ‘original meaning’ in addition to all its other attributes is astonishing, and could come only from a writer who is hungry for meanings he knows he can’t have. In anyone else’s work the idea that you die if you do and die if you don’t would sound like despair. In Kafka it feels like an invitation, if not exactly to relax, then to accept reality. Or invent something that will feel like acceptance. The language teacher Kafka would say that we can’t choose to accept the mess we already have.

The poem’s poetic interpretation of Gen. 3:22, linking as it does the hubris of the builders of the Tower of Babel to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, differs from Kafka’s which is cited in  The Aphorisms of Franz Kafka, and suggests that God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in order prevent them from eating fruit of the Tree of Life.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.
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