Notes on Genesis (xxv) Cursed is the ground
‘…cursed is the ground in your labours. In toil you shall eat from it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…’ (Gen 3:17f)
The significance of these words, addressed to the original couple shortly before their departure from the Garden, goes far beyond difficulties faced by farmers. The first man had been placed in a garden to tend and keep it (Gen 2:15). The Fathers take this to mean that the task given to humanity was that of attending to its inner state and steadily drawing closer to God; here, as usual, there is nothing static about the Orthodox view of human life. The subsequent warning of toil, thorns and thistles therefore functions as a kind of metaphor to express the difficulties people have in carrying out this work after the fall. In the parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-15), Christ uses similar imagery. ‘They say that the best soils sometimes under cultivation produce a hundredfold, so that this is a mark of every fertile and productive spot…When the divine word falls upon a pure mind skillful in cleansing itself from things hurtful, it fixes its root deeply and shoots up like an ear of grain. It brings its fruit to perfection being strong in blade and beautifully flowered.’ (Cyril of Alexandria)
With his usual sensitivity to sound, Everett Fox notes that ‘thorns and thistles’ suggests an alliteration not found in the Hebrew, and suggests ‘thorn and sting-shrub’.