Joanna M. Saidel

In the beginning

'Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden' (detail) - fresco, Michelangelo, 1509-1510, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain
'Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden' (detail) - fresco, Michelangelo, 1509-1510, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain

 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.”

Genesis 3:7-8

The imagery of this text from Genesis was famously illustrated by Albrecht Durer in the 1504 engraving, “Adam and Eve”.

‘Adam and Eve’ – engraving, Albrecht Durer, 1504, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

By the mid-16th century, Titian painted “The Fall of Man” which was copied, with modifications, in 1628 by Peter Paul Rubens.

‘The Fall of Man’- oil on canvas, Titian, c. 1550, Museo Nacional del Prado, Public Domain

There are a plethora of similar paintings. Even Michelangelo’s “Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” in the Sistine Chapel depicts Adam and Eve being chased out of the Garden completely naked. However, few (if any) of the multitude of art related to this subject matter illustrate the aftermath of the event, when God rejects the covering that man made for himself, and clothes Adam and Eve in a full modest covering akin to a coat or tunic.

Genesis 3:21 states that “unto Adam and also to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” :וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵֽׁם We know this to be true by the translation of the original Hebrew word כָּתְנוֹת (kutonet) which is a tunic or coat, often made from linen but, in this case, made from the skins of animals  (כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר).

It is doubtless evident that the garment was a full body covering. The same word is used in other scriptural references, always in the same manner. Examples include eight occurrences of the word in Genesis 37 in reference to Joseph’s “coats of many colors”. The term is also used eleven times in Exodus and Leviticus when mentioning the priestly apparel, always as a tunic or coat (of linen fabric in these cases).

The Book of 2 Samuel repeats the word (כָּתְנוֹת) three times. One reference states, “And she had a garment of divers colors upon her: for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled.” Here again, one finds that the garment was sacred in nature. Ezra and Nehemiah also refer to it as being part of the priests’ garments. It occurs in the Song of Songs as well.

‘The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man’ – oil on copper, Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1612, Public Domain

Thus it is clear that the nakedness of Adam and Eve was not covered by God with a fig leaf, a flap, or anything of that nature. Rather, the covering that God gave to man was one of modesty, honor and blessing, a tunic or coat, most likely with long sleeves and at least knee length.

Unlike those mentioned in other passages of scripture, these particular coverings were made of skins. This implies the need for blood sacrifice, a theme found throughout the Bible – from the slaying of the Passover lamb to the protection its blood provided to the Jews of Egypt through its application to the doorposts  and gates of their houses; to animal sacrifice during temple worship; to the blood sacrifice of Yom Kippur; to what some believe was the final blood atonement by the Messiah, Yeshua Ben Yosef – all being the remedy for the separation of man from God due to transgression of God’s law, and in accordance with the continual command that blood sacrifice was necessary for the remission of sin and for reconnection with the Almighty.

When one thinks about Adam and Eve, perhaps the old mental fig leaf image should be substituted with the true picture, the one God preferred: that of mankind fully and modestly covered, both physically and spiritually, through the patient forgiveness of the Creator, and bountifully spared from various damnations by His loving kindness and eternal outstretched arm of salvation.

And so we begin anew.

About the Author
Joanna M. Saidel, Ph.D was the personal research assistant for the late Professor Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current prime minister, from 2000 to 2010. She authored the Doctoral dissertation, Revisionist Zionism in America: The Campaign to Win American Public Support, 1939-1948, and the Master’s thesis, Jewish Life in Latin America. She was awarded "First Place" in the International Art Competition, "My Jerusalem," by Mayor Teddy Kollek and Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
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