The Creation of Woman in the Bible

Another look at the Adam and Eve story


This 11th-century mosaic, which shows the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, comes from the Church of the Dormition in Daphne, Greece. Early Christians found parallels between the Adam and Eve story and Jesus and the Church. In the mosaic, blood and water flow from Jesus’ pierced side in the direction of his mother, Mary. Early Christians believed that just as Eve was birthed from the side of Adam, so the Church was birthed from the side of Jesus.

The creation of woman in the Bible has been the topic of much debate lately in Biblical Archaeology Review. In “Was Eve Made from Adam’s Rib—or His Baculum?” from the September/October 2015 issue, Ziony Zevit makes a shocking claim about the Adam and Eve story in the Bible. The Biblical text says that Eve was created from Adam’s tsela‘. Although tsela‘ has traditionally been translated as “rib,” Zevit argues that it is better translated as Adam’s os baculum. This controversial conversation continues in Mary Joan Winn Leith’s article “Creating Woman,” published in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

In her article, Leith examines the creation of woman in the Bible. She looks at the etiological and euphemistic support for Zevit’s interpretation, and she considers how this would have fit into ancient views of biology. Then Leith focuses on an interesting part of the Adam and Eve story in the Bible: the “punishment poem” in Genesis 3:14–19.

This poem occurs after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit. Because of their disobedience, God curses them. As Leith explains, this curse takes positive relationships, including childbirth, and turns them negative:

[T]he “punishment poem” in Genesis 3:14–19 reverses to negative effect all the positive relationships that prevailed before the humans disobeyed God. Humans and God, man and woman, humans and animals, humans and the earth now become alienated from each other where before all was harmonious. The most famous negative effect of the human disobedience is the woman’s pain in childbirth. At least theoretically then, before the punishment, childbirth in Eden should have been painless. If the father-as-child-bearer principle is hovering in the background of the creation of the woman, then the difficult childbirth promised to the woman in Genesis 3:16 reverses the painless “birth” in Genesis 2, where not only does a man—rather than a woman—give birth, but thanks to the anaesthetic “deep sleep” (tardemah), the man suffers no pain.

Thus, the creation of woman in the Bible from man—the first birth, according to Leith—is painless, but, as the “punishment poem” illustrates, all subsequent births are painful. Further, not only was the first birth painless, but it was a man—not a woman—who shockingly gives birth, setting it apart from all others.

In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.

Leith then examines Christian symbolism related to the Adam and Eve story in the Bible. Early Christians believed that Eve was created from Adam’s rib or side, and they found parallels between Adam’s side and Jesus’ side that was pierced during his crucifixion. John 19:34 records, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his (Jesus’) side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” Early Christians believed that the blood represented the holy Eucharist, and the water represented baptism—two sacraments given by Jesus to the Church. Therefore, the Church was birthed from the side of Jesus, just as Eve was birthed from Adam’s side.

This interpretation is illustrated well in an 11th-century mosaic from the Church of the Dormition in Daphne, Greece. In this mosaic, blood and water flow from the pierced side of Jesus in the direction of his mother, Mary. Leith explains that Mary is often referred to as the “new Eve” and “considered to personify the Church.” The birth of the Church is visually depicted by the blood and water (sacraments) flowing toward Mary (the Church). Adam also makes an appearance in this scene. Jesus’ blood drips onto Adam’s skull at the foot of the cross. This symbolizes 1 Corinthians 15:21–22: “For since death came through a human being (Adam), the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being (Christ); for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

To learn more about the creation of woman in the Bible, read the full article by Mary Joan Winn Leith—“Creating Woman”—in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Creating Woman” by Mary Joan Winn Leith in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Adam and Eve Story: Eve Came From Where?
Ziony Zevit argues that Eve wasn’t made from Adam’s rib—but from his baculum

Lilith in the Bible and Mythology
Dan Ben-Amos explores the figure of Lilith

How the Serpent Became Satan
Shawna Dolansky examines Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden


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  1. Steve says

    I have always had a great deal of difficulty understanding how Mary represents the Church. Jesus never said anything to suggest this. If anything, I would think Peter would be the representation since he was the rock on which the church was to be founded. Mary may be important insomuch as she birthed our Lord, but represent the church? Meh, not really seeing it. Her role in the gospels was minimal, and mention of her pretty much died out after. Someone please help me understand how she came to be seen as this.

  2. Pal says

    Man/Adam never had a b one in his Penis. Neither do we. Many other mammals do
    God did not create woman from a bone, not even bone from the rib cage.
    No bone differentiates woman from man.

  3. Martha says

    By the 11th century CE/AD, Mary the mother of Jesus was firmly established as a semi-divine figure, taking the place of the pagan Astarte-worship that had been characteristic of the middle east and in fact much of the Mediterranean basin since Sumerian times. Even the paintings of the Virgin with a suckling babe are direct heirs of the Egyptian cult of mother goddess with many breasts, suckling her infant. There is absolutely no Scriptural basis for any of this. There is no mention of Mary the mother of Jesus after Pentecost. In the Gospels, she is an ordinary young woman who was chosen by God to be the mother of His son. Arguments continue as to whether the young woman mentioned in Isaiah is a virgin or merely a young, marriageable (that is, fertile) woman, based on the words “alma” (a young woman) or “betulah,” a word which indicates virginity in many sources. The argument is muddied because sometimes these words are used interchangeably, since among Jews, an unmarried young woman was invariably a virgin. Mary was married to an artisan (“tekton in the Greek original) named Joseph, and twice in the Gospels four brothers of Jesus are mentioned by name: Simon, Jacob (James), Judah, and Joses, and an unknown, unnamed number of sisters. James the Just, the second brother, sometimes called James the Lesser (there was a chosen Apostle also named James) is mentioned as “the brother of Jesus” and one of his letters is found in the New Testament. So Joseph and Mary appear to have had a large family of children, of whom Jesus was the eldest. This Scriptural fact makes Mary’s permanent virginity another contentious issue among various Christian sects. No one knows when or how Mary died, or where she was buried. Catholics believe that she was taken bodily into Heaven– this is the “Assumption.” The Reformation sought to correct such doctrines that had crept into the western church over time– worship of relics that were supposedly saints’ bones, Mary-worship (called Mariolatry by Protestants), and any references to Mary as divine or semi-divine, and the saints replacing the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses, each one with an assigned task. Nonetheless, the Roman church continues on in this way to this day. In the 19th century, Mary was declared “co-redemptrix of humanity” equal with Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus’ death on Calvary is believed by non-Catholic Christians to be full and complete payment for the sins of mankind, reconciling God and man at last– hence the title “Lamb of God,” in turn referring to the annual sacrifice of the Pascal lamb to atone for the sins of Jews for that year. This view of Mary is one of the big sticking-points between Roman Catholics and western Protestants as regards reconciling their differences, because Protestants in many if not most instances use only the information in the New Testament as their basis of belief– this is known, in Latin, as “sola Scriptura.” The Roman church has a long oral tradition that changes, sometimes dramatically with the publishing of a papal doctrine on any given subject, that Catholics are obliged to believe. To be “infallible” dogma, the pope must be speaking on the subject of faith and morals, and “ex cathedra”– that is, from the throne of Peter, as it is known by Catholics. Frequently such doctrine has nothing to do with Scripture– a glaring example is the Immaculate Conception, referring to Mary being born without the stain of original sin (the Fall of Adam and Eve) that the rest of mankind is born with, according to Christian doctrine. Many people think that the Immaculate Conception notion refers to the conception of Christ, but this is erroneous. It refers to Mary, whom Catholics pray to in the Rosary, and she is mentioned prominently in prayer along with and at least equal to the most important saints, Peter and Paul. Novenas and other such prayer rituals to Mary are commonplace in the Roman church. None of this has anything to do with the Gospels, the Acts, Paul’s letters to various churches, other letters from those who knew Jesus including his brother James, or the Book of Revelation, that make up the New Testament. This veneration of Mary is distinctively Catholic, and of long standing. It began in the late second century among western Christian converted from paganism, apparently seeking a replacement for their familiar and powerful mother-goddess figure, and has continued unabated to this day. Eventually it became doctrine and dogma.

  4. Martha says

    I should have said that Protestants use “sola Scriptura” as the basis of their beliefs, and this belief includes the entire Christian Bible, composed of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Christian belief among Protestants is not limited to the New Testament by any means. It begins in Genesis and ends with Revelation.

  5. Gary says

    God did not curse Adam and Eve, He brought down judgement on them. God told Adam that if he ate the fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil he would surely die. They ate and they experienced God’s judgement; they died both physically and spiritually (spiritual death is a separation from God).

    If God had made Eve from Adam’s baculum, He would have had to replace it with a totally different system involving new muscles, blood vessels, nerves, brain cells, the list goes on, to provide what men have now. However, taking part of, or a whole rib bone, no new creation was necessary as the rib is the only bone in the human body that will re-grow if removed providing the periosteum is left in tact.

  6. Scott says

    Martha’s run down of some of the differences between Catholic and Protestant belief is your standard Protestant view. When you change words like veneration to be worship it shifts the readers reaction. Then put some Biblical language explanations in there without putting some background out there. ( the contentions about the Isaiah 7:14 is mainly from post temple Judaism re-translatation of the LXX and it’s middle-aged counter part the Masoretic text which Protestant adopted which at its heart was a attempt to derail the Christian movement) As for Tradition with a capital T means teachings of the Apostles that they received from all there experience with Jesus and what they received from the Holy Spirit, as the first generations did not yet have a written NT, and NT itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition. It’s very obvious that Christian dogma has been a process of expanding knowledge of the mysteries contained in the revelation of Christ. You are completely wrong if you quote the Catholic Church as placing Mary as equal with Jesus. Thanks for keeping the fog of confusion on what the Church really believes.

  7. Dixon says

    Genesis 3 “punishment poem” is NOT a poem according to the Hebrew language experts/authorities, it is history.

  8. Rich says

    This is some serious separation from the authority of the Bible, I am shocked that BAR would publish such nonsense without embarrassment.

  9. Carmen says

    I thank you very much for publishing this, since the old fathers of the churches has lied to the people for long enough now. Looking at all sides with an open mind and without judgement is the only way to move forward and ultimitely getting to the truth. Ive always said. Its not that the bible is not telling the truth, the bible is incomplete.

  10. 123 says

    Orthodox Christian tradition also holds that Golgotha was the place of Adam’s burial. It is the “place of [Adam’s] skull”. Thus, Christ’s bloods drops on to Adam himself to save him (cf. the Harrowing of Hell icon where the gates of hell are broken and Christ is lifting up both Adam and Eve out of Sheol.)

    I believe Mary = Church comes from the idea that the Church is Christ’s Body (cf. Colossians 1-2, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 10 and 12, Romans 12) and Christ’s human nature (including his body) came from his mother, Mary. In addition, “The Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ” [St. Ambrose] thus becoming one with his Body, the Church, in a special, most exalted way (i.e., no one else has had God literally, physically living within them, dependent on them, taking life from them.)

  11. John says

    I think this is just the same isogesis that gives way to so much error in Christianity today. Believing that Mary is some sort of second Eve is lunacy. Any discussion of the Creation of Eve is biblically silenced by the fact that God chose to not give the details. By believing that “Man” (Adam) was to be the birth of all man is not only ludicrous it’s warping scripture out of context completely. Using an example of some “art” as true interpretation of scripture is the highest form of heresy. I believe that the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side after death “towards Mary” would have been so important that all the Gospels would have mentioned it. Please argue about things that have at least some scriptural basis for truth.

  12. Brent says

    You know what Mary, by answering that particular question about the mother of Christ representing the Church of God was quite an excellent summary in great detail. I’m totally impressed with your deep insight on Biblical knowledge. I actually learnt something interesting on this topic. However in regards to Stevens post, Peter the apostle of being the rock doesn’t exactly agree with me even though his name has this definition. The rock is God and the Church is Christ and we Christians just happens to be the congregation. Peter the apostle was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven whether whosoever remains to be a royal subject or whosoever is completely excommunicated. Mind you some of those interpretations about Jesus Christ being pierced by a spear which gushed out water and blood doesn’t seem to be a symbolic representation of a sacred Baptism and Eucharist. Seriously we really shouldn’t try and complicate things by adding to the examples that’s already given in the Bible. Especially when there’s more confusion about Adam’s spare rib. He did say this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh and she shall be called woman. I’m pretty sure that God wouldn’t expect Christian publishers to write another Bible with the word Baculum. So I actually agree with Gary see above.

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