In The Genesis of Perfection Anderson guides the reader through the text of Genesis 2-3 (which cannot be divorced from Genesis 1) and especially through the creative ways in which early Jewish and Christian interpreters understood the stories and handled the problems they posed. Inside the title page he lists three theses that he advances in the book, ones that arise from the texts surveyed:
Anderson offers "an attempt to draw a comprehensive picture of how Jews and Christians in the first few centuries of the Common Era retold and relived the story of Adam and Eve." (xvi) He grants that his coverage is not comprehensive and that he has favored what he calls "normative" materials, that is, those materials that reflect the views of Rabbinic Judaism and the Church that confesses the great creeds. For this reason he brackets Gnostic texts, for example, and he includes a variety of texts such as commentaries, art, and liturgical writings. Not all of the works he uses may be familiar; for instance, he cites a number of passages from the poetry of Ephrem the Syrian. At times his coverage lurches far from the early period, when, for instance, he treats paintings in the Sistine Chapel and selections from John Milton. Such later works, however, reflect and reuse earlier understandings of the Adam-Eve story. The book is adorned with twenty-one illustrations, a few of which are in color.
After an introduction sets up the topic, Anderson covers in eight chapters (the fifth of which is a reprint) different issues and motifs that stimulated the exegetical labors of early Jews and Christians. An example is "Where Did Adam Know Eve?" -was it inside or outside the garden, and what follows regarding sex and the nature of Eden from the decision one makes? Another is "Garments of Skin" which centers around the debate about what Adam and Eve lost in the garden when they sinned and what they were wearing when they left. Following a summing up section (Afterword: Adam, Eve. and Us) one finds a glossary and four appendixes. The first, entitled "Biblical Origins and The Fall" (previously published), analyzes this seemingly New Testament and Christian theme in connection with modern scholarship on the first chapters of Genesis in relation to the Sinai chapters. The second is an annotated text of Genesis 1-3, the third a part of M. Stone's translation of the Armenian version of The Life of Adam and Eve, and the fourth a part of the translation of The Gospel of Nicodemus from Hennecke-Schneemelcher. This text is important for the theme of the harrowing of Hell. There are also end notes to the chapters, a bibliography and two indexes (textual references and general).
The Adam-Eve stories have clearly left a deep imprint in Jewish and Christian literature and art, although interest in them may have been a bit late in developing (the Qumran texts show little concern with them, as do some of the early pseudepigrapha). Anderson has written an engaging, very readable study of the issues that gave rise to reflection, the nature of the solutions adopted, and the situations that the interpretations addressed. His book provides us with another contribution to the lively modern concern with the Rewritten Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity.
It is interesting just to read about such material and a delight to have an authoritative guide through it. But is there more that study of the Rewritten Scriptures offers than simply an interesting historical and literary exercise? It is safe to say that there is. It is instructive to watch traditional scriptural interpretation (a phenomenon with a far longer history than historical-critical scholarship) in action, to appreciate the principles underlying it, and to witness what attention to the entire existing text can yield. Modern exegesis operates with different assumptions and perhaps more evidence, but it is hardly more subtle than its traditional ancestor. The current emphasis in biblical scholarship on the finished text (with less concern for the necessarily hypothetical reconstructions of its prehistory) is a rebirth-transformed, to be sure-of what had long prevailed in reflection on the Bible.