Finding Biblical allusions within some of my favorite music really illustrates to me the depth and breadth of its influence on all kinds of culture; it simultaneously has both a personalizing effect, while also truly highlighting the scale of influence that the Bible has achieved. This was evidenced to me by the song “Eden” by Sara Bareilles; I was aware of the Biblical allusions within the song long before this, but the chance to really delve into the lyrics revealed a greater depth to it than I had first realized. The song is rife with allusions to the narrative of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, and it is heavily laden with imagery and details that call to mind that story.
“Illustrate the remnants of the life I used to live here in Eden
Rolled a lucky pair of dice,
Ended up paradise
Landed on a snake’s eyes, took a bite and ended up bleeding”
The beginning of the song seems to indicate a huge transitional shift in the narrator’s life; while things were once idyllic in a so-called “paradise,” they have since found themselves in a much worse position. Obviously the reference of living in “Eden” is meant to draw forth that image of a wonderful and enviable place in life, whether it is a physical place like the garden itself or a state of being. “Rolled a lucky pair of dice, ended up in paradise” can be seen as a reflection on Adam and Eve being summoned into existence and their placement within the Garden of Eden; they were not called into being by any virtues or accomplishments of their own, but rather it can be seen as a kind of luck that they were put in that extremely favorable position by God. “Snake’s eyes” here is likely referring to the aforementioned dice, but it’s also a clever allusion to the serpent within the garden. “Took a bite and ended up bleeding” calls to mind Adam and Eve each taking a literal bite from the fruit of the tree that had been forbidden to them and experiencing their subsequent fall from grace and exile from Eden.
“The truth is all those angels started acting the same
And I know there’s no going back now ’cause
Life in Eden
Life in Eden changed ”
This section of the chorus further illustrates the allusions to the Bible. The reference to angels is a rather non-specific way of alluding to the Bible. The remainder of those lyrics further allude to the Adam and Eve narrative, as “there’s no going back now” draws a parallel to their exile from Eden and God’s command that they would never be able to return. So in that way, “life in Eden changed,” both within the Bible narrative and within the narrative that the singer is conveying.
“Walking in the garden was a serpent-shaped heart and he told me
What is broken cannot show, and less than beautiful is worse than unholy
Idolized my innocence,
Stole it from me in the end
Now I’m wide awakened and still paying for the poison they sold me”
This verse has some stunning allusions to the narrative. This can be seen as an interpretation of the serpent convincing Eve to eat the fruit. “What is broken cannot show, and less than beautiful is worse than unholy”: this can be seen as the serpent’s manipulation with Eve, telling her that the fruit would open her eyes and allow her to see good and evil as God does; in that way, he convinces Eve that she will be able to perceive what is “broken” but currently hidden from her, and that it is better to be “unholy” and break that command from God rather than being less than fully aware of the world around her. In that way, the serpent idolized the innocence of Adam and Eve and schemed to steal it from them and cause them to be banished from the garden. The reference to being “wide awake” alludes to the fruit bringing awareness to Adam and Eve, as their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked and hid from God as he was walking through the garden. Adam and Eve were punished with their exile and the loss of that paradise, which can be seen in the reference to “still paying for the poison they sold me.”
“There was a time when I was taking all bets that
This place was even better than as good as it gets and now
Looking back from the outside in
I think I was choking on the air in Eden
Choking on the air in Eden”
This alludes to Eve taking the risk (or “bets,” as seen here) that it would be worth it to eat the fruit and convince Adam to do the same. They were misled and had the perception that eating the fruit would further heighten paradise for them, seen in the line “this place was even better than as good as it gets.” They had paradise, but they still sought to improve upon it for themselves. “Looking back from the outside in, I think I was choking on the air in Eden” can be seen as Eve reflecting on the events after they were banished. She is looking back, as they are in a much less favorable position, and realizing that she was “choking” in the sense that she still desired more than paradise. It was their own hubris and desire for more, aided by the serpent’s words, that led to that downfall.
Overall, this song displays a wealth of allusions to the narrative of Adam and Eve, and it does a compelling job of drawing parallels between that narrative and the events the singer is describing.