It’s always entertaining to re-read old college papers, especially when you’ve learned more since then. In the case of Feminism & the Bible: Examining the Christian Myth of Creation, the handful of later realizations or learnings I had were interesting enough to me that I thought I’d relate them here.
For example, most people know a little bit about the myth of Eve and Adam, but fewer are aware that, according to modern biblical scholars, it is an embellishing “gloss” added later. The original creation of humanity is delineated in Genesis 1:26-28 (Revised Standard Version):
Then God said, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them….
More and more we’re discovering traditional translations were (sometimes not so subtly) influenced by the cultural background of the translators. In a patriarchal society which assumes “man” equals both man and human, but “woman” is the Other, I’m sure it seemed perfectly logical to use “he” both for God and for the first created human entity. But if you go to the original texts, you’ll find Adam wasn’t referred to as male until the creation of Eve. Before that “adham” (which translates approximately to “the earth creature”) mirrored the divine image: it was both female and male, just like God. It is only when the original earth creature is broken into two pieces that we end up with a female and a male.
Also, just for fun in the rest of this article I’m going to try using genderless pronouns where appropriate, to see how it turns out and what people think.
Continuing thusly, and keeping in mind the perils of assuming any commonly used biblical translation has close adherence whatsoever to the original writing (with its confusing, faded, and vowel-less script), it’s pretty clear by the above-mentioned verses that the “brag” of man being “first created” is moot.
There is one thing Adam is definitely first at, however: he is the First Liar. The serpent (the most subtle of the beasts, which makes one wonder if it was also a Child of God) was able to beguile Eve into trying fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil due to Adam apparently lying to her. From Genesis 2:16-17 we have the set-up, where God speaks to Adam:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.
As we can see, the injunction was originally given to Adam. There is no indication of God repeating itself to Eve, nor any verse showing God contradicting itself (yet) in the bible. Therefore, moving to Genesis 3:2-3 (where the serpent is talking with Eve), we find Adam has incorrectly given God’s words to his female companion. I’ve bolded the changes:
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
Later on, when God is expelling the Serpent, Eve, and Adam from Eden, it is a little-known fact that Eve is the only one of the three who is not associated with a curse. The Serpent is told, “cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals;” (Genesis 3:14), and because of Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you;” (Genesis 3:17). Only Eve remains uncursed, being told, “in pain you shall bring forth children,” (Genesis 3:16). According to the mythologies of the time, painless childbirth was at that time the mark of a deity… so effectively Eve is being told she and her offspring will be mortal rather than deific.
Interestingly, this would point to Adam, not Eve, as the source of so-called “original sin” and the following expulsion from Eden — but I doubt we’ll be seeing any upcoming religious re-visioning of who’s theoretically to blame. ;)
Of course, with a bit of research one can also discover a number of interesting further inconsistencies with the translation and interpretation of Genesis. For example, I recently read of a paper where the author chose to re-translate the bible, to see how close our current biblical translations came to the original texts, when translated with our current scholarly understanding of the original language and texts.
According to the author, the words which are usually biblically translated as “evil” and “good” are actually more accurately translated as “unripe” and “ripe.” If true (I’ve yet to get my hands on the original paper), this offers a far more Eastern perception of the world, where according to some texts there is no “evil” so much as there is disease and sickness — which, once healed, becomes “good” and whole-bodied. Personally I’d find this a far more holistic and healthy worldview, where the various states of being are connected, and one state can evolve quite naturally into the next — rather than the simplistic and inadequate self-imposed dichotomies we struggle with today.
Also, according to Elaine Pagels’ well-regarded, scholarly, and quite readable book, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, the story of Eve and Adam was originally conceived as an exploration of God’s great gift to humankind: Free Will. It was Augustine, with his rather twisted personal struggles over his obsession with sex and women, who re-interpreted Genesis as a story of how woman is inherently evil and responsible for man’s Fall from Grace. Frankly, what I’ve read about Augustine’s personal issues being conflated with his religious views makes me feel much like the person who doesn’t drink, who’s being ordered around by the fanatical recovering alcoholic — who believes everyone has the same issues he does!
Indeed, it would appear there is a very strong argument to be made for the entire conception of “original sin” at that time as being nothing more than a (perhaps non-conscious) justification to increase the power of the priesthood, and to scare people into “christian obedience.” As an example, the gnostics considered the Genesis myth an expression of God’s gift of free will, rather than as an indictment of women due to “original sin.” They also believed in personal gnosis (religious enlightenment) for all, female and male. Quite logically they therefore allowed all humans to teach and perform the sacraments, rather than repressing female expression entirely and insisting gnosis was possible only through a male priestly interpreter — which was what the “orthodox” church preferred, since that particular hierarchy-of-choice maintained the cultural status quo.
As a sadly amusing viewpoint on this time, I recently read of the lament of Irenaeus, an orthodox church father, who found himself at a loss to explain why he kept losing women from his “flock” to the gnostic christians. His conclusion was the gnostic teacher Marcus must be a “diabolically clever seducer” who concocted aphrodisiacs. ;)
Over time the gnostics were viciously stamped out as “heretics,” which meant the more repressive and misogynistic version of the story of Genesis was forcibly made canon: “original sin” included the concept that it was woman’s “fault,” and redemption could only occur after submission to male sacerdotal interpretation of scripture.
I’m sure as time passes I’ll learn more about this fascinating historical document, of course. Having just been accepted into a master’s program on Women’s Spirituality, I’m excitedly looking forward to much, much more learning to share with my readers. For now, however, I hope this piques your interest and inspires many enjoyable hours of research. Happy reading!