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Biblical Archaeology Review 47:1, Spring 2021

Epistles: The Garden of Eden: Don’t Sweat it!

By Mary Joan Winn Leith

Biblical Archaeology Review

If you know your Bible, you know that when God expels Adam and Eve from Eden, God tells Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). This occurs just after God curses the earth to sprout thorns and thistles to impede Adam’s farming and just before the dreadful final pronouncement, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This all makes sense in the context of Adam’s prior job which was to “till” and “keep” the garden God had planted in Eden. In Eden, Adam was a farmer, and he would still be a farmer in the wild world outside Eden. The difference is that outside Eden, Adam would have to work hard to grow food—or, put another way, food would require sweat equity.

It’s the story’s reference to sweat that intrigued me. Sweat is a normal feature of our cultural language; think of Winston Churchill’s iconic “blood, toil, sweat, and tears” and all those famous athletes who extol the virtues of sweat. Some form of “sweat” turns up 49 times in Shakespeare’s writings. In the Hebrew Bible, though, sweat only comes up here in the Adam and Eve story and in one other place—which I will reveal at the end of this piece.

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