I Said on TV that Adam and Eve Were in Love. I Was Deluged with Hate Mail.

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Something is rotten in the world of religion.

Over the last week I went on national television (GMA, The View, Nightline, PBS NewsHour) and mentioned what close readers of the Bible have been suggesting for thousands of years: that Adam and Eve were in love. They were commanded by God to be fruitful and multiply; had a healthy, long-lasting relationship marked by commitment, missteps, resilience, and forgiveness; and continued to be blessed by God after they left Eden, had children, and suffered setbacks. God wanted their relationship to succeed, and it did.

The occasion for these conversations was the publication of my new book, The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us, in which I traveled from the Garden of Eden in Iraq to the Sistine Chapel to Hollywood, exploring how Adam and Eve introduced the idea of love into the world and how they continue to shape our deepest ideas about family, relationships, and togetherness.

The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. Many people embraced the idea and welcomed the talk of love in a time of division and hate. But a startling number of people inundated my inbox and social media feeds with fuming attacks of wickedness and evil, and outright calls for my death. And this wasn’t the normal crop of outspoken nonbelievers, who often overrun the comment sections of anyone, like me, who talks about religion in public.

This was the self-professed believers – those who claim to embody the precise lessons of human connection, togetherness, and love that begin with the first couple of Genesis and become more vocal throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. I was called “perverted,” “Satanic,” “ignorant.” “I truly hope you feel the wrath of God,” wrote one anonymous emailer who went by the moniker “Faith.” “Maybe that will change your vile wicked ways. You are truly the essence of why people have such a distorted view on God and the Bible. I’m even willing to bet you have never even read it.”

Well, I have, and here’s what it says: In Genesis 1, God creates an ungendered human being in his image, then divides it into male and female. What’s true for the man is entirely true for the woman. They are equal.

Genesis 2 begins the second account of human origins. God forms Adam from the earth, then Eve from his side. (The Hebrew word in question here, “tsela,” does not mean “rib,” as is often claimed, but “side,” suggesting the two do not stand one above the other but side by side.) Adam is besotted with his partner. She’s “the one!” He brims with sexual attraction, using the suggestive words “bone” and “flesh.” “The two are naked and know no shame.”

But Eve wants independence. She wanders off and eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As soon as she does, though, she realizes she craves a relationship, too. She offers the fruit to Adam, who faces his own choice between duty and love. He chooses love.

Genesis never refers to these acts as “sins.” In doling out consequences, God does banish the couple from Eden, but as they depart, he covers them in protective clothing, suggesting he still blesses them after they leave. Indeed, he participates in the birth of their children. “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man,” Eve says in Genesis 4. After one of those children murders the other, God again helps Adam and Eve conceive a third child. “God has granted me another child in place of Abel,” Eve says. It’s this son, Seth, who goes on to populate the human line and allows Adam and Eve to fulfill their original commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

This reading of Adam and Eve as committed, if sometimes rocky, partners is not new. It was shared by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, John Milton in “Paradise Lost,”Mary Shelly in “Frankenstein,” Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and many, many more over the centuries. Even Pope Francis stood in front of a million people in Philadelphia in 2015 and touted the love of Adam and Eve. I was there; the crowd cheered his upbeat message.

Today, however, to question religious orthodoxy in public is to be lambasted with hateful, histrionic, hyperbolic language. Expressions of open-mindedness are too often met with the bile of bigotry, made worse by the veil of anonymity the Internet provides. The comment section has supplanted the pulpit and pew as the chief terrain of religious discourse – and has anyone ever been uplifted, calmed, or inspired by those cesspools of hostility?

I say this not as someone who dislikes religion, but as someone who has devoted the last 20 years of my professional life to finding lessons from the Bible that are deeply relevant to today. In the case of Adam and Eve, I believe the story contains a message of resilience, equilibrium, and the power of shared storytelling that are exactly what our culture needs at a time when relationships have become cheapened by reality television, tabloids, and Hollywood’s facile fantasy-mongering.

My hunch is that those who took the time tweet, Facebook, and hate-mail me, might actually agree with these positions, if they took the time to soften their hectoring intolerance and open themselves up to the power of timeless stories to deliver new, surprising, and timely messages, as they’ve been doing for thousands of years.

Bruce Feiler’s latest book is The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us. His four previous best-selling books on religion include Walking the Bible and Abraham. He’s also the writer-presenter of the PBS series “Walking the Bible” and “Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler.” For more information, please visit www.brucefeiler.com.