Contemporary interpretations of the Genesis 3 narrative either view the passage as depicting a negative event (the classical fall understanding) or a progressive evolutionary stage in human development, the development of a moral consciousness. In both cases, interpreters have generally taken as their point of departure the forensic categories of guilt and sin. While guilt and sin concepts may be implicitly present within the passage, comparatively little discussion has centered around the ideas of shame and fear, which appear explicitly. We propose that the deliberate framing of the narrative in terms of shame and fear provides the interpretive key to this passage and thereby provides a way forward for the fall question. In particular, we will demonstrate that Gen 3 not only names shame as the primal and foundational reaction to transgression, but uses shame as a means to portray the complex effects of transgression on the human condition: a shift in identity from divinely ascribed to humanly acquired, leading to a fear of personal inadequacy in the eyes of the other, and hence an interpersonal self-consciousness and the desire to manage one’s self-disclosure. We conclude that if these are indeed aspects depicted in the fall narrative, then soteriological and anthropological investigation must engage more deeply with shame and its consequences.

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