Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve

In "The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us" (Penguin Press, 320 pp., ***½ out of four stars), best-selling author Bruce Feiler makes a convincing case that mankind still has much to learn from the first human beings.

After all, they invented love and marriage, and their relationship ran the gamut, from early passion to the tough slog through disappointment and crushing loss.

Their story, which predates the myths of Greece and Rome, is alive and well. No one ponders Jupiter and Juno anymore, but the first couple of the Bible endures. In every century they reappear in literature, art, song, and now on flat screens.

And the saga of Adam and Eve gives birth to new lessons as each generation reexamines their story. As with many things written down long ago, like the United States Constitution, the Bible is open to interpretation.

For example, the Apostle Paul justified male domination in matters of religion by spinning Scripture thus: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man. She must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”

Good luck with that glib analysis today. For starters, many scholars question whether that is an accurate translation of Genesis, which contains two distinct creation stories. Then, of course, a cursory reading of the first book of the Bible reveals that the birds and animals were created before Adam: Pope Hippopotamus anyone?

The couple's young love hit a snag right away: Adam and Eve were exiled from paradise, for heaven’s sake, and then raised two contentious children, Cain and Abel. At the dawn of their relationship, Adam gave up Eve in a heartbeat, blaming her for making him eat the forbidden fruit (yes, the woman took the fall). But they stayed together nonetheless — and, in the epitome of optimism, had a third child together, Seth.

One of the many morals of their story is that it is not good for people to be alone, this according to the God of Israel as well as modern social science.

Feiler ("The Secrets of Happy Families") takes the reader on an engaging meander in search of the first family’s transcendent meaning. His itinerary encompasses the Middle East and the Galapagos, Biblical scholars and anthropologists, and the likes of Michelangelo, Mark Twain and Mae West.

It's a thought-provoking odyssey, and by its end it is hard not to nod in agreement with the author’s conclusions, such as “There is no love without time” or “Instead of censuring them (Adam and Eve), we should be celebrating them.”

Conversant with Scripture, Feiler can make a single word dance before the reader, who may assume, for example, that the gerund "knowing" is merely a euphemism for sex.

Well, listen up: “The root the Bible uses for ‘knowing,’ yada, is also the root the Bible uses for ‘reason.’ This overlap is not accidental. It implies marital love contains a deep knowledge of your partner that is neither rose-tinted nor rainbow-hued but battle-tested and well-earned.” Yada yada, indeed.

Love isn’t easy, but without it life is an even harder grind.