As much as I'd like to know the "truth" behind the St. George myth, I think I'll wait on that one for another time. Maybe when I can ask Micah about it too. So...
"The beginning is always a good place to start," Nathan told him, wishing he'd brought his notebook with him to record this. "So Genesis 3 it is."
Alton's whole face lit up, and he squealed excitedly. "You know the exact passage! I'm impressed!"
Nathan shrugged, rolling his eyes. "I took Bible as Lit my senior year. Hell, I still have my annotated Bible. It's a great reference."
"You must have done very well, to have that memorized."
"Nah, I got a C," he admitted. "The professor didn't agree with my interpretation of Revelation, so he marked my final essay just above failing. Killed my grade, but didn't keep me from graduating."
"If you still have a copy of it and don't mind, I'd love to read it," the shopkeeper said, a glint of excitement in his eyes before he waved the idea off. "But that can be another time. You want to hear about Eve and the Garden, yes?"
Nathan nodded, leaning forward, wanting him to see just how keen he was to hear this story. Alton grinned widely, then began:
"The temptation of Eve: my very first assignment. You would think such a tale would be very straightforward, but sadly the Bible -- in all of its iterations -- neglects some very important details. First is that man was not the first being created in God's image." He waited a moment, watching Nathan carefully for his reaction, but then frowned. "You're not surprised?"
"Genesis contradicts itself in the first two chapters," the other man explained. "I'm not surprised in the least. Let me guess: angels came first?"
"You're very quick. Yes, we were the, ah, rough draft, if you will. We were created even before other creatures, the initial intent being to create mankind first."
"So Genesis 2 is more accurate than Genesis 1 then?"
"Yes and no. It's more like a combination of the two: while God was perfecting the design for mankind, their future home was being constructed. Humans were the first project started, but the last -- and most perfect -- one finished."
"I see." This made another thought occur to Nathan. "So is God a man or a woman?"
Alton chuckled, clasping his hands under his chin. "Somehow, I knew you'd be asking that sooner or later. It's not a simple thing to answer, and the best I can give you is that God is male, female, both, and neither, all at the same time. This was, perhaps, one of the reasons creating mankind was something of a challenge. In the first attempt, angels were made closer to God: we are both male and female, and yet also neither. It was decided that this would not do for mankind, and so God split them and all later creatures into two separate genders. Remnants of his earlier attempts still remain in the gene pool, but that's another story."
"Huh." Nathan sat back in his seat. "That's... fascinating."
"And now that we've gotten that lovely tangent out of the way, perhaps you'd like me to finish?"
Nathan started, then laughed, nodding. "Sorry. I guess I'm too curious..."
"No, no. Curiosity is a good thing. It was that trait that created mankind as it is today." Alton removed his glasses and began cleaning them as he continued. "For the sake of clarity, I'll use the names you're more familiar, but there are a few more details you need to know before I tell you the rest."
"I'm all ears."
"Adam and Eve weren't the only humans in the Garden." Alton paused to return his glasses to his face. "There was a veritable nation of them, all with different names, all at varying levels of completion. The Garden was where they were kept to protect them from the wilds beyond its gates. I was sent down to find out if any of them were ready to leave."
"Ready to leave?" Nathan asked. "But I thought..."
"Please, let me finish. God wanted to test the creations, to be sure that they would be able to survive outside of the Garden, where not all of the plants would be edible and not all of the animals friendly. God wanted them to question things. As the only one of the angels who could lie, I was sent to tempt them. The tree was just another tree, but with a few cleverly woven words, I had them all believing that it was somehow sacred, somehow forbidden. And then I began offering them the fruit.
"Most simply weren't interested; others refused outright. A few attacked me for being so willing to go against what they believed was God's word. Then there were some that accepted, but decided that they were content to remain within the Garden's walls. And then there was Eve."
Alton closed his eyes, remembering that day. "The first thing she said to me was, 'But if I eat the fruit, I will die. That is what God said.' I told her in return that it would not, but rather..."
"Her eyes would be opened," Nathan continued for him. "And that she would be like God, knowing good and evil."
The angel gave him a sly smile. "No. I told her that she would never know for certain unless she tried. Not only did she take the fruit, but she then convinced an onlooker, Adam, to try some too. The rest of the story is nearly the same as the one everyone knows, except for the final details: God was not angry with them and did not punish them for betraying a command that was never really given, and he did not force them to leave. They both asked to be allowed out of the Garden."
This is amazing! I would have never thought of the story like this, but it makes a lot of sense, in a way. I can't believe that this is what...
What am I thinking? Alton is Lucifer. He's a liar. Can I really believe anything he's just told me? As fascinating as it is, can I really trust him? All this story does is cast him in a more heroic light, and do I really want to believe that it's true?
Should I believe his version of the story?