[Milton-L] death in Eden.

Samuel Smith ssmith at messiah.edu
Mon Nov 15 22:25:51 EST 2004

Actually, Jim, the biblical account does not commit Milton to the slaying of
animals to provide coverings for Adam and Eve.  Here's the KJV: "For Adam
also and for his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed
them" (Genesis 3.21).  This allows Milton to remain uncommitted in his own

                              then pitying how they stood
Before him naked to the air, that now
Must suffer change, disdain'd not to begin
Thenceforth the form of servant to assume,
As when he wash'd his servants' feet, so now
As Father of his Family he clad
Thir nakedness with Skins of Beasts, or slain,
Or as the Snake with youthful Coat repaid.  (PL 10.211-18)

It is true that Christian interpretation often assumed that God slew the
animals to make the coverings, and this assumption was often presented as a
typological reading of the coming blood sacrifice of animals and eventually
the Son.  But Milton does not commit to this interpretation, and the Genesis
text is equally noncommittal--only an eisegetical reading of the text
results in identifying the first death with Genesis 3.21(whether reading in
the Hebrew or in translation).  This is actually one of my favorite moments
in PL, where Milton imagines the possibility of animals sloughing off their
skins like snakes to provide a covering for the human pair.  

Samuel Smith
Professor of English
Messiah College
Box 3017
Grantham, Pennsylvania 17027
717 766 2511 x7052
email: ssmith at messiah.edu

Because the only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning at all:
That is stranger than all the strangeness.

--Fernando Pessoa
>>> jrovira at drew.edu 11/15/04 8:42 PM >>>
_Anxiety in Eden_ by Tanner is a good, extended discussion of the fall 
and the possibility of a "fall before the fall" (the problem being the 
transition from innocence to fallenness -- at what point do Adam and Eve 
become fallen?  When they decide to eat the fruit?  Before?).  I think 
the question is something only a Christian exegete can anachronistically 
read into the Genesis account.  There was no sin of thought or motive in 
prelapsarian Eden, only of deed, so Adam and Eve did not sin until they 
actually ate the fruit.  They weren't commanded not to think about 
eating the fruit and they weren't commanded not to want to eat the 
fruit, only not to eat the fruit.

Tanner uses Kierkegaard's _Concept of Anxiety_ to resolve some of these 
problems.  This isn't specifically about nature, but Tanner does a good 
enough job reviewing scholarship related to this question that you can 
probably have an idea where to start looking.  I think it was written 
within the last 15 years.

If Milton followed the Biblical account, the first death should have 
been the animal slain to provide skins for Adam and Eve when they were 
cast out of the Garden.


Douglass A Bourne wrote:
> I am a graduate student taking a Milton seminar.  Soon I must have a
> thesis statement to present to the class.  I could use some guidance in a 
> couple of areas.  I want to explore death in Eden.  
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