Wearing the Atonement

Steve has an interesting post concerning the coats of skins given to Adam and Eve after they had transgressed the commandment by partaking of the fruit but before they had been thrust out of the garden.

Steve says

I can picture Jehovah making these coats of skins for the naked, humiliated Adam and Eve; they realize now that their time in Eden is over, and that their relationship with their Father will never be the same. I imagine that those first garments were made for them lovingly, made of sturdy stuff to face that lone, dreary world. Sure, there must have been an instruction to them about what these clothes meant, and I picture them listening, and wondering what it all meant…

Steve develops this idea further and I encourage you to comment on his thoughts over at his post. There is an aspect of the clothing of Adam and Eve that I would like to discuss here, however.

Consider that the coats that they were given were made of skins. We presume that these were the skins of animals. While one could envision the Lord creating animal-skin clothing miraculously through the priesthood command of atomic or subatomic particles, I suspect that the Lord used this as an opportunity to education Adam and Eve in the meaning of death and the meaning of the atonement, as well as to introduce technology.

Until now, Adam and Eve had no comprehension of what death actually was. As a consequence of their sin, the world was now subject to death. And among the first deaths, if not the first, may have been the animals that the Lord himself killed in order to use their skins to make clothing for Adam and Eve. At some point previous to their leaving the Garden, the Lord would have to teach Adam and Eve how to make sacrifices by the shedding of blood. This could have been done in conjunction with the creation of clothing.

Imagine the horror of Adam and Eve as they watch as the Lord demonstrates how to put the animal to death; as they watch the life extinguished; as he cuts off the skin; the blood and gore; as he teaches them how to construct an altar, to make fire, to offer the animal up as a sacrifice; the smell of burning flesh. Suddenly the consequence of their sin becomes sickeningly real. They suddenly know what death is for they have seen it.

The Lord shows them how to tan the hides of the dead animals. He shows them how to cut and sew the skins together to make clothing.

As he clothes them they are starkly aware that they are wearing the death of an innocent–a symbol that they carry throughout their lives as a reminder of the death that should be their fate and of the death that will occur in the future in their stead: the death of an innocent whose sacrifice will cover their sins.

The coats of skins become symbols of the atonement that would be made through the shedding of innocent blood.

Could either Adam or Eve look upon each other, clothed in the remains of their introduction to death, without thinking of their transgression, their punishment, and the atonement that would cover their sins the way these skins covered their nakedness?

The horrifying scene also represents the introduction of skilled craft and technology by the Lord to Adam and Eve. In order to make coats of skins the Lord would introduce cutting tools, the science of tanning, the art of sewing. In order to teach them to make sacrifices, the Lord would introduce basic construction in the form of an altar, he would introduce fire, possibly even cooking.

Their time in Eden was, indeed, over. And their relationship with the Lord will never be the same.

27 thoughts on “Wearing the Atonement

  1. I like this line of thinking. It is moving to picture such an event, if that is indeed what happened.

  2. Very interesting thoughts. However: By what power did Jehovah do these things? We know he had power over the elements, by the creation story. But we also believe that at that point he lacked a physical body. So do you imagine him simply commanding these elements to obey his will, and them obeying, or did he find some way to manipulate the physical things– animal, stones, blade, fire, etc., in some way that somehow approximates physical contact?

  3. Ryan,

    It seems logical that He had the power to do so. But I like Wilson’s idea of Jehovah actually showing Adam and Eve some of the practical skills they would have to use in the lone and dreary world while making a covering rich with symbolism. Does doing those sorts of things actually require a physical body? That’s also something interesting to consider, as you have pointed out.

    The way Jonathan portrays it paints a nice picture, even if that’s not the way it happened.

  4. POACHERS!! 🙂

    Nice discussion, though, JMW. Of course it’s all speculation, but any images that help us appreciate the Atonement and the endowment better are worthwhile, IMHO.

  5. Touching visuals.

    Let’s take this a step further. Did He explain about sex? menstration? Was He there to (help) deliver the first couple kids? Was He in the circle to help give the kids names/blessings?

    Must there been much divine intervention to keep Adam&Eve alive (from sickness, natural disaster, natural male stupidity, etc.)?

  6. The question of the Lord’s lack of a physical body at the time is a good one. I supposed that we might ask the same of his “touching” the stones brought to him by the Brother of Jared. Did he physically touch, or did he just “influence” through his power?

    I like to think of the Lord demonstrating, but as Steve said, this is just speculation. I can imagine getting to the same lesson without such demonstration, though the visual aspect is more appealing to me.

  7. I was wondering how long it would be until the poaching police arrived… 🙂

  8. Why do we assume that spirits are see-through and that they pass through doors and when they drink a glass of water it falls on the floor, etc…? Hasn’t Hollywood and folklore given us these ideas that spirits are less substantial than physical bodies?

    At any rate, the image of God skinning a deer is pretty interesting, and something you’d only find in a Mormon discussion. Another tidbit for an anti pamphlet: “Mormons believe God skins dead animals!”

  9. I like the images and symbolism of the account. It’s a nice extension to the allegorical story of the Fall of Adam, but I doubt God had to literally teach Adam and Eve about practical skills.

  10. Wow. The starkness of this discussion compared with what has been said at FMH is incredible.
    “The coats of skins become symbols of the atonement that would be made through the shedding of innocent blood.”

    Incredibly stark.

  11. Actually, Sheldon, this idea is widely circulated in Christian circles. A quick Google search, for example, yields this. I recently ran across an exposition of the idea in a search on lds.org, too, here, and I know it’s around elsewhere, too. It is a powerful idea, and Jonathan’s meditation on it is lovely.

  12. Cooper: will you explain further? What FMH conversation do you mean? What do you mean by “stark”?

    Rosalynde: Thanks for your compliment. Your link to lds.org didn’t work. I’d be very interested in it. Could you tell me the speaker/author, title, and year?

  13. Mark Twain wrote some humorous speculations about Adam and Eve and how they learned about things for the very first time (including each other):

    http://www.mtwain.com/Eve's_Diary/0.html (Eve’s diary)

    http://www.mtwain.com/Extracts_From_Adam's_Diary/0.html (extracts from Adam’s Diary)

    MONDAY.–This new creature with the long hair is a good deal
    in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about.
    I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay
    with the other animals. . . . Cloudy today, wind in the east;
    think we shall have rain. . . . WE? Where did I get that word–
    the new creature uses it.

  14. Sorry, Jonathan, not sure what I did wrong with the link. Here’s the reference: Lenet Hadley Read, “All Things Testify of Him: Understanding Symbolism in the Scriptures,” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 5

    I just searched with the terms coats skins atonement in the searchable publications database. A number of items came up.

  15. That’s a fun cite, danithew. I’m sure you’re aware of the pseudepigraphcial “Book of Adam,” which contains a number of highly touching (and occasionally comical) stories about Adam and Eve’s life outside the garden. It’s not canonical, but it’s sure a lot of fun.

  16. Johnathan – there was a recent thread at FMH discussing the proper way to wear garments. Stark because the sacred nature seems to have been set aside in their discussion.

    I commend you for your approach to this topic.

  17. I find the imagery of brutally descrating animals in this manner disturbing. Horribly disturbing.

    Yes, so is the Atonement of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we have to watch The Passion to understand it’s value in our lives. I thought Mormons had denounced the practice of displaying bloody pictures of Jesus’s earthly misery on the cross, and had moved on towards a focus on his love and great mercy.

    This post is so disturbing to me. I feel sick after reading it.

  18. Danithew,

    Mark Twain’s The Diary of Adam and Eve is one of my favorites of his works. I have a copy on my bookshelf here next to my computer. My parents read it to us as children. There are actually two versions. In one version Adam is annoyed that Eve rejects the practical name he gave to the four-pronged-white-squirter and calls it instead a cow.

    When I was at BYU I went to a stage adaptation of it in which a friend of mine played Eve.

    Thanks for the links!

  19. Nicely done and interesting. I’ve always enjoyed this sort of edifying speculation, which is based on plausible scenarios and openly admits its speculative nature. Good!

  20. No. I’m not joking. This kind of violent and barbaric imagery is inappropriate in a civilized society. Ripping out the guts of animals and wearing their bloody skins is absolutely horrific. That’s not what I think of when I wear my garments.

  21. Stay away from the old testament. it’s also considered inappropriate. I also don’t like to think of all of the cotton plants that had to die for me to have garments.

  22. Steve (#7), I believe it was Elohim that baptized Adam. Which doesn’t explain how Jehovah made coats of skins. But if God created the earth by delegating, perhaps Jehovah could have done the same thing with Adam and the skins?

  23. Well gosh Anon, I don’t think Adam and Eve got to shop at the local Walmart for food and clothing where all the meat was neatly packaged into little steaks and clothes were hanging on hangers fresh from China just waiting to be purchased. I’m pretty sure they would have had to kill animals for food and clothing. In fact, and this may come as a surprise to you, in most parts of the world people are still “ripping out the guts of animals and wearing their bloody skins”. Personally, I’ve been enjoying the leather jacket my wife bought me.

    Anyway, what do you think the “coats of skins” were made from? Plant skins maybe?

  24. Well, no shock here, but I’m a strict vegetarian and don’t wear leather products. I’m morally opposed to killing animals. Our society has progressed sufficiently that we no longer need to kill them for food or clothing. Unfortunately, not many Mormons agree with me. So, keep on ripping out the guts of animals and wearing your leather products. You’re in good company!

  25. Anon, thanks for your post. I think it brings to light our present-day squeamishness. I agree that we often use the resources that God has given us carelessly, and interpret the “gave you dominion” scriptures in our own self-interest. Nibley has said the same thing in Approaching Zion. Having said that, however, D&C 59 is very clear that those who preach that we are not to eat meat are not teaching true doctrine. Further, we tend to forget that there will be one last sacrifice of blood when the sons of Levi offer again a sacrifice in righteousness– at least that is my understanding of the doctrine, though I do not remember which General Authority stated that.

    Death, while certainly a negative effect of the fall, is also a positive effect, since it prevents us from having to live forever in our sins. Further, we tend to view death in far too negative a light. This reminds me of those who are opposed to capital punishment, foolishly forgetting that there is much more than this life (OK, OK, threadjack, I know). The animals that were killed in sacrifice are not only for this earth. As latter-day Saints, however, it seems that we should not view death the way the world views death — as the ultimate end, a period– but rather see it as the end of a chapter, a comma, so to speak. I understand that you are not arguing this, but it hit on something that I’ve been thinking about — namely, that there is nothing more beyond this life. To those who ascribe to this view, death is the worst possible thing, for any living thing, whether human or animal. But we know better. That knowledge should not be used to justify needless bloodshed (and it often is, as you point out so well), but rather should place death in its proper perspective. Once again, the gospel helps me understand things as they truly are, rather than seeing life at the extremes.

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