Feiler (The Secrets of Happy Families, 2013, etc.) examines the saga of the first romantic couple in an intellectual exploration that could have been titled “A Thousand Ways of Looking at Adam and Eve.”
The author relates how he began contemplating Adam and Eve obsessively while visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome with his 8-year-old twin daughters. One of the girls examined the ceiling, saw the image of God pointing at Adam, and asked, “Why is there only a man? Where am I in the picture?” Noticing a different detail, his other daughter asked, “Who’s that woman under God’s arm? Is that Eve?” Those questions caused Feiler to realize the centrality of Adam and Eve in conversations about male-female dynamics over the past 3,000 years. “One story,” he writes, “has served as the battleground for human relationships and sexual identity.” To understand that centrality, the author researched the Bible carefully, read countless other religious and secular portrayals, and consulted dozens of scholars from a variety of disciplines. Although torn from the start about whether Adam and Eve were flesh-and-blood individuals or mythical creations, Feiler seems to lean toward the former throughout his exploration, which is impressively wide-ranging but repetitive to a fault. The author discusses the couple foremost as examples of love for and loyalty to each other. In addition, he examines them as sexual beings, parents, trailblazers for equality between genders, and much more. The repetition revolves around Feiler’s insistence, in somewhat varied words in each chapter, that the couple invented and defined love—both at the guidance of God and somewhat independently of God. At times, he comes across as a college debater trying overly hard to prove points that are impossible to prove.
Despite the sometimes-exhausting repetition, Feiler provides a fascinating look at why Adam and Eve matter in understanding couples today.