The Genesis of Good and Evil (Paper)

The Fall(out) and Original Sin in the Bible

  • 9780664263959
  • 6 x 9
  • 200
  • 68.75
  • Paper
  • 066426395X
  • 1/15/2019
  • 3-5 days processing
$ 25.00


For centuries, the Garden of Eden story has been a cornerstone for the Christian doctrine of “the Fall” and “original sin.” In recent years, many scholars have disputed this understanding of Genesis 3 because it has no words for sin, transgression, disobedience, or punishment. Instead, it is about how the human condition came about. Yet the picture is not so simple. The Genesis of Good and Evil examines how the idea of “the Fall” developed in Jewish tradition on the eve of Christianity. In the end, the Garden of Eden is a rich study of humans in relation to God that leaves open many questions. One such question is, Does Genesis 3, 4, and 6, taken together, support the Christian doctrine of original sin? Smith’s well-informed, close reading of these chapters concludes that it does. In this book, he addresses the many mysterious matters of the Garden story and invites readers to explore questions of their own.


“Mark Smith has taken up a most overworked often misread text. He addresses a most vexed and insistent theological notion. He does so, moreover, with great attention to detail, patience with theological nuance, and wide-ranging critical awareness. The outcome of his work is a rich, fresh, and suggestive theological exposition of a very old issue. Smith cannot and does not seek to void the lingering over-read of the text by church tradition. But he does invite reconsideration of matters of sin and evil. He is, moreover, alert to the contemporary urgency of the issue and offers a most welcome interpretive encounter.” –Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

“Was there a “Fall”? Was there an “original sin”? The prolific author Mark S. Smith offers insight and writes with clarity, insight, and profundity on these pivotal topics that are so vital to biblical theology. While not all will agree with every element of his analysis of the relevant texts, his reflections will provoke better understanding and further discussion. All those who are interested in these important questions will have to reckon with Smith’s perspective.” –Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

“Smith has written a valuable book, providing detailed analysis of biblical (especially Genesis 3–4; 6) and relevant ancient Near Eastern literature, an exploration of broad theological issues such as the nature of humanity in Genesis and “the mystery of God,” and an overview of the way “original sin” have been understood by Christian theologians. Smith concludes that it is better to speak of the “fallout” of what happens in Gen 3 rather than “the Fall.” A volume that will prove useful to the general reader and the specialist alike.” –David L. Petersen, Franklin N. Parker Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

“This disarmingly honest, thoughtful, and gracefully written book addresses questions that regularly occur to readers of the biblical narratives in Genesis 1–11, but particularly in chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6. Their queries concern the nature of evil, the Fall, original sin, Satan, guilt, innocence, the implications of being human, and the “wrongness” of human curiosity. Depending on the individual readers, the questions may be considered of general interest or of personal concern. When examining specific questions and their implications, Mark S. Smith draws from knowledge and insights in the works of ancient and premodern theologians and biblical commentators typically found on traditional Christian and Jewish bookshelves as well as from research found on the bookshelves of twenty-first-century historians and language experts, all specialists in different aspects of ancient Israel’s culture and the contemporaneous civilizations of the pre-Christian, Ancient Near East. The book reads quickly. It is an action adventure for the restless mind that has a satisfactory but open-ended conclusion. For those interested in how Smith pulls this off, he provides a large section of Endnotes containing references and side-bar discussions.” –Ziony Zevit, Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages and Literature, American Jewish University, Los Angeles

"With a welcoming voice and his characteristic erudition, Mark Smith takes on some of the most profound questions in Western religions. As he readily acknowledges, this book raises more questions than it answers; it could not be otherwise. But for those interested in further explorations, it also offers a wealth of resources." –Christopher B. Hays, Ph.D., D. Wilson Moore Associate Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies Chair, Old Testament Department, Fuller Theological Seminary


“Mark Smith’s latest book is an effort ‘to come to grips with Christian claims about the Fall and original sin in Genesis 3.’ He then sets off, in his inimitable way, to explore seven questions that lead him not only back to Genesis 2, and then forward to Genesis 4 and 6, but also beyond: to Augustine, Calvin, the Catholic Catechism, and seemingly every pertinent nook and cranny in the ancient Near East. Spoiler alert: Smith disagrees with a large swath of Christian tradition, finding not a fall in Genesis 3 but a fallout that comes about thereafter, though also remarkable possibilities for human goodness despite our ‘Adam-ness’ and ‘Eve-ness.’ Smith’s goal is to find out what Genesis 3 ‘really says’—which is a hackneyed and usually dubious claim, but not in the case of Smith, whose erudition will educate even the most serious scholar while his fluid prose remains intended for ‘anyone intrigued by what happened in the Garden of Eden.’ Smith ends his study in praise of theological mystery and human curiosity; there is equally also a great deal to praise in this book and in Smith’s work among us.” —Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament, Emory University

“Mark Smith’s The Genesis of Good and Evil is a tour de force by one of the best biblical scholars of this generation. He gives a fresh, original, and compelling reading of the story about the origins of good and evil. At the same time, he draws broadly on the long and rich tapestry of Jewish and Christian traditions in weaving his own vision of this central story of ‘original sin’ and the ‘Fall.’”  —William M. Schniedewind, Professor of Biblical Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages, University of California, Los Angeles

“Mark Smith’s The Genesis of Good and Evilexplodes traditional assumptions that the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 is all about the Christian doctrine of ‘original sin.’ In its place, Smith offers a far richer and more compelling theological alternative by reading the combined chapters of Genesis 3, Genesis 4, and Genesis 6 as an exploration of human desire, goodness, sin, and evil. Taken together, these chapters deliver a far more complex, textured portrait of the human condition (for good and for evil). Smith also expertly guides the reader through a fascinating interreligious history of the doctrine of human sin (Christian, Jewish, Islamic) with profound implications for how we understand ourselves as humans in today’s world. Highly recommended!”—Dennis T. Olson, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

 “Genesis 3 is one of the most widely known stories in human history. At the same time, the tale seems buried beneath its huge reception history. Mark Smith masterfully analyzes both the biblical story and its reception history, uncovering the significance of Genesis 3 beyond its traditional interpretation and also reconstructing the logic of its later receptions.” —Konrad Schmid, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism, University of Zurich 

Product Samples & Images

You May Also Be Interested In...

The Word in This World (2004)
Scripture on the Silver Screen
Figured Out
The People Called
Sexuality in the New Testament
Johannine Faith and Liberating Community
The Betrayal of God
Theological Bible Commentary
Reimagining God
How Luther Became the Reformer
Sign up to learn about new releases and other updates from WJK