A Mortal’s Sense of Immortality
To fear death is to fear life itself. An overbearing concern for the end of life not only leads to much apprehension of the final moment but also allows that fear to occupy one’s whole life. The only answer that can possibly provide relief in the shadow of the awaited final absolution lies in another kind of absolution, one that brings a person to terms with their irrevocable mortality and squelches any futile desire for immortality. Myths are often the vehicles of this release, helping humanity to accept and handle their mortal and limited state. Different cultures have developed varying myths to coincide with their religious beliefs and give reprieve to their members in the face of irrevocable death. The same is true for the stories in the Book of Genesis and the Mesopotamians’ Epic of Gilgamesh. In these two myths similar paths are taken to this absolution are taken by the characters of Adam and Gilgamesh, respectively. These paths, often linked by their contradictions, end with the same conclusion for each man on the subject of immortality; that no amount of knowledge or innocence, power or humility, honoring or sinning, will achieve them immortality in the sense of a life without death. Eternal life for a mortal lies in memory by one’s friends and family after one’s death.
When Adam is created in the second chapter (and second creation story) of Genesis out of the dust by the newly created world of God, he is the most innocent being ever known. It says of he and Eve, “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:24)';, and why should they be, having no knowledge that their state was indecent? The opposite is true for Gilgamesh, who Anu grants “the totality of knowledge of all (Gilgamesh 3)';. Through the course of the epic we discover that Gilgamesh indeed does not have knowledge of all things, namely a grasp upon death. Adam does not even know that such a thing exists, thus his life, without the threat of death hanging overhead, is originally one of tranquility, happiness, and perfection. He is humble before his Lord God, with whom he shares the unique relationship of aiding him in His creation of all things. Adam’s life is full in this passive innocence and he has no need for anything more until something forbidden and mysterious is presented to him. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, as in a state of unrest. He seeks to justify his existence through the attainment of widespread fame and unmatched power. Nothing is said of his thoughts on death before he meets his soul-mate Enkidu, but one can draw from the utter fear and turmoil Gilgamesh feels after the passing of Enkidu that he thought his might and accomplishments placed him above the rules and limits of other mortals.
It is somewhat surprising to me how readily Adam eats the fruit of the...