Perspectives on the story of the first mother
A single bite of fruit forever heaved the entirety of a fallen and sinful creation onto the shoulders of Eve; through the lens of millennia of patriarchal interpretations of the scriptures, women throughout history have had to shoulder the blame and consequences. From an inferior place in spiritual service, to their place in society as a whole, women have been forced to take a backseat to their male fellows for no other reason than Eve ate the fruit first.
While most would not be surprised to find that modern scholarship and theological interpretations have taken great strides to find new perspectives on the story of the first mother, they would be astonished to learn that forward-thinking and pro-women interpretations of the Garden of Eden have been around for hundreds of years.
Dating from as early as the 14th century, these four biblical observations and interpretations helped to pave the way for more modern thinking and helped Eve’s daughters to regain their dignity and respect:
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(1) In Genesis 1, God creates Man and Women at the same time and gives them the same mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Some women have used this to argue that this indicates God made no distinction between the sexes, and neither should society.
(2) In Genesis 2-3, the use of the word ‘ezer (“helper”), does not imply subordination. Rather, God himself is described as the helper of the Israelites (Genesis 49:25; Psalm 37:40). Eve serves as the helper to Adam—as God served to the Israelites.
(3) Adam did not treat Eve as inferior to him or as his subordinate.
(4) According to Genesis 3, Adam was with Eve as she spoke with the serpent. Scholars have asked why he didn’t speak up. Why did he eat the fruit and allow Eve to do the same?
Eve is a complex character. Has she been adjusted to fit societal views and affirm the oppression of women, or does the biblical Eve truly demonstrate that women are made of “inferior stock”? To learn of the different interpretations of Eve by women, read Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s full article “The Gospel According to Eve,” published in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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This article first appeared in Bible History Daily on April 29, 2020.
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