So why do we frequently hear preachers say evil and death entered the world because of the original sin of Eve? Paul is responsible for it. In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (5:12–21), Paul sees Adam’s sin as producing a situation in which humans are forever alienated from God, which leads to death.
Of course, in Christian theology, Jesus provides the cure for this situation, and belief in Jesus gives one access to eternal life; and this is a good selling point.
“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one [man], much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (Romans 5:17–18)
These words sound terrible to Jews and Muslims. The Torah states: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, neither shall children be put to death for their fathers: every one shall be put to death for his [or her] own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)
And the Qur’an states: “Every soul draws the result of its acts on none but itself: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.” (Quran 6:164)
So what does the Torah really say about Eve’s action? First of all, the Torah states: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27)
What does “God created mankind in his own image“ mean. It means, as we learn at the end of the allegory, “For God knows that when you eat it; your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Thus, moral knowledge makes humans like God.
And that is why God sends the serpent to tell the woman: “You will surely not die. For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew they were naked. (Genesis 3:4-7)
And they did indeed become like God, in knowing good and evil; as the Torah states: “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, mankind has become like one of us [there are other intelligent moral creatures in the universe] knowing good and evil. Now, lest they reach out a hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever’ therefore the Lord God sent mankind out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which mankind was taken.” (Genesis 3:22-4)
So the Torah teaches us that knowing right from wrong is what makes humanity like God; and that Eve made the right choice, even it life became harder and more complicated because humans have moral consciousness.
But the influence of Greek philosophy and started influencing some Jews in the Land of Israel long before Paul; and is already noticeable in the time of Ben Sira [c200 BCE] who wrote: “from [a] woman sin had its beginning; and because of her we all die.” (Ben Sira 25:24)
In reaction to Ben Sira and Paul, the rabbis rejected this anti-female view and blamed death on the sin of the golden calf. “Had Israel waited for Moses and not perpetrated that act [the golden calf], there would have been no [historical] exile, neither would the [metaphysical] Angel of Death had any power over them.” (Midrash Rabbah: Exodus London: Soncino, 1939, p. 404–5.)
But most rabbis did not teach that ‘sins of your ancestors’ rationalization, preferring instead to focus on individual responsibility and choice as taught in the Tannaitic midrash (Sifre Devarim 306) which states:
“Rabbi Simai [3rd-4th century CE] said: All creatures created from heaven, [like angels] their souls and their bodies are from heaven. All creatures created from earth, their souls and their bodies are from earth. Except for Mankind-Adam whose soul is from heaven and whose body from earth.
Therefore if mankind do Torah and fulfill the will of our father in heaven, behold they becomes like the creatures from above, as it says, “I have said: ‘You are gods, all of you sons of the Most High’” (Ps 82:6).
But when mankind do not do Torah and fulfill the will of our father in heaven we become like one of the creatures from below, as it says, ‘So you will die like an earth creature.’” (Ps 82:7).
Muslims have a much easier way of rejecting Paul’s doctrine of ‘Original Sin”: they just point to the verse in the Quran that states that Adam repented for his sin. God revealed to him words with which to repent, which Adam then accepted from God. “Then learned Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.” (Quran 2:37)