Retold by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim
Illustrated by Ed Young
Designed by Michael Farmer
Display type hand-lettered by Judythe Sieck
Pastel and watercolor on Canson paper
Text set in Deepdene
Harcourt Brace and Company
This is the story of Adam and Eve in the gardens of Paradise. This is the story of the Serpent, of the Devil, and of the Fall. This is not based on the first book of Moses, however, but on the Islamic version which was written by Jarir-at-Tabari in Baghdad in the 9th century.
For five hundred years Adam and Eve had lived in Paradise. And for five hundred years Iblis, the great Satan, had been trying to get in.
It is the angel Ridwan who stands guard outside the garden, and the first image of the book is of his clenched fist and flaming sword.
Trying to figure out a way to sneak in, Iblis tricks the serpent, promising to tell her the three magic words which will save all who hear them from illness, old age and death. The serpent - both beautiful and vain - allows Iblis to shrink to the size of a speck of dust and sit himself "between her teeth, making them poisonous for eternity."
From this perch, Iblis can then speak as the serpent, and is thus able to address Eve incognito.
"Dearest serpent, in this garden of God, have we not all that can be desired?"
"It would seem so. But are you not troubled that the noblest fruit of the garden is denied you by God?"
He goes on to tell her that the fruit gives eternal youth and health. Eve is indeed curious.
"How do you know this?"
"An angel told me as I lay under the forbidden tree."
"I must see this angel!"
Iblis is a master shapeshifter. In a moment, he has flown out from the serpent's mouth and transformed into "a perfect young man with wings like clouds."
"I am a man made into an angel," Iblis told her. "I become an angel by eating the fruit that God has denied us. I was near death, ill and infirm. I ate and lo, you see me a thousand years later."
Eve needs no more convincing. She takes and she eats. She gives to Adam and he eats.
It is not clear why the fruit is forbidden. There is no mention of "the Knowledge Between Good and Evil," which I always found to be one of the most compelling aspects of the Biblical story. Neither is there any mention of Adam and Eve suddenly realizing their nakedness and attempting to cover themselves.
At that moment, the tree comes to terrifyingly life. Young spreads it out over two pages, the terrible, twisting branches of that hideously overgrown tree, like a hundred dark snakes, the form of the humans writhing from within, trying to escape. This is the manifestation of God, and He is not pleased.
"Depart from Paradise, thou Adam, thy wife, Eve, and the animals that led ye into disobeying my command."
It is now, at God's command, that leaves are given to Eve and Adam, and they are expelled. It seems a slight distinction, but I'm certain in the Biblical version they fashion the fig leaves before God comes to find them.
Adam is banished to the island of Serendib, which is now - Oppenheim tells us - present-day Sri Lanka. Eve finds herself exiled in Jeddah. I'm trying to figure out how they went on to produce the human race between them if God sent them to opposite ends of the bus like this.
And Iblis - the star of the book - is flung into the River Eila, which flows into Hell. We see him, screaming, now transformed into his true form, falling into the roaring flame of eternal hellfire.
And they all lived eternally cursed ever after!