Originally written in the early 1990’s for an absolutely amazing class on the bible as history and literature. My later notes, to clarify the paper, are in blockquotes.
The story of Genesis in the bible has been used throughout history as an excuse for, and explanation of, why women should be subjugated by men. This does not mean that Genesis actually says such a thing. It mostly means that men throughout the last 2000 or so years have used the story to justify their (often aberrant) behavior. Their rationale seems to run along the following lines: god created man before woman, therefore man is more important than woman. As god demands obedience, and abuses those who disobey, so man has the right to do the same to woman. After all, she is a “second thought,” she is merely the “helpmate” (the usual translation of the word from the original written language) of man.
This rationale conveniently forgets everything created before man is not considered more consequential than him. If things were created in increasing order of wonderfulness (which is today generally believed), then woman (not man) is the shining pinnacle of the deity creating in Its own image.
A closer reading of Genesis will reveal that it says nothing of the kind. Indeed, there are arguments to be made which say (if anything) that woman is as important, if not more so, than man. For intellectual entertainment, I will delineate one below.
In his article “Woman, a Power Equal to Man,” R. David Freedman raises questions concerning the correct translation of Genesis 2:18. One of his comments concerns one particular word which can be translated as either “to save” or “to be strong”.
He comments, “He is surely not creating this creature to be the man’s savior. This makes no sense.” I find myself asking why he feels this way — why should that make no sense? Let us look somewhat more at the bible, to see if we can determine the ‘sensicalness’ of this possible translation.
First of all, god has sons. Genesis 6:2 refers to them. Later, in Deuteronomy 32:8, god divides up the lands of the world much as a patriarch might portion out his property to his sons for them to steward. Also, god must be talking to someone in Genesis 1:26, and his “Sons” are further mentioned in Job 38:7 as being rather joyful at the creation of the world.
Where did these sons come from, anyway? Perhaps from the female companion?
Very well, if god has sons, does he (of necessity) have a female companion? If one looks later in the bible, one finds references to “Sophia” being YHWH’s companion, who helped him to create the universe. YHWH translates roughly as “Lord” or “God”; “Sophia” means “Wisdom.” The concept of an almighty being without wisdom or conscience is truly terrifying. It is entirely possible to believe that YHWH considered Sophia his “savior” from being a thoughtless brute.
Let us now look at the first human. Nameless, he named all the other animals. Other than neglecting to name himself and being created in god’s image, he doesn’t really seem any different from them. Indeed, in Genesis 3:12, Adam reveals himself as a whiny tattletale while attempting to clear himself of all blame. He tries first to place the blame for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil on Eve; then, astonishingly, he places blame on his creator!
Earlier in Genesis he doesn’t seem much better. I quote from Illuminations (a bible-study magazine article); “Adam, in fact, reveals himself to be rather reserved, taciturn and, to put it mildly, not terribly energetic. During the entire story he plays a miserable walk-on role….” Perhaps it is this emotional situation with Adam which god wishes to rectify.
Eve, as is also pointed out in Illuminations, is the first theologian, can act independently, and takes responsibility upon herself, as well as looking out for her partner. When she eats the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she does not hoard the information, but shares it with Adam. How miserably he repays her!
Thus I present this argument to interpret god’s actions in creating woman as a savior — a gesture to give Adam wisdom and save him from brutishness. Bear in mind, however, that this argument, like all the others before it for the last 4000 or so years, is merely an attempt on my part to see what I wish to see in the bible. There is no way to know exactly what the bible really means. Also, as long as the emotional baggage of 4000 or so years of interpretation is attached to the bible, it will be somewhat pointless to try to use the bible in a spiritually significant way for women.
The story of Genesis is, in the popular mind, the story of why women are less than men. Until that miserable and inaccurate rendition of this story is expunged from popular consciousness, the bible will remain simply another patriarchal tool to justify the atrocious treatment and subjugation of women.