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.


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

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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.


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

What Does the Bible Say About Infertility?
Joel S. Baden and Candida R. Moss place the command to “be fruitful and multiply” in context

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on March 14, 2016.


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  • dr howard says

    Hebrew l translate:
    “And Yahweh Elohim produced a deep trance to envelop Adam and he remained asleep;And He opened up his entire side and reached inside and firmly grasped [ stem of force] the feminine one [ rib means a structure or a form the fem.gender is used!] and swiftly removed her while sealing up the entire side- head to foot- of his flesh.
    And Yahweh cleaned up the feminine one or woman [feminine male] whom He had firmly grasped within the man and conducted her to the man.
    Adam knew it wasn’t a ‘bloody rib’ taken from inside him as he was inspired to say -without correction from Yahweh – This finally is now a skeletal frame from the inside of my skeletal frame and flesh body from inside my flesh body she will be proclaimed a woman [ esha not a rib] because she was taken from the inside of man. “

    Adam himself in the very presence of God said ‘she or a woman’ was removed from within his body. The rib is used as a figure of speech. In the literal Hebrew it says- and l left it out of my translation -Adam exclaimed this is one who makes foot prints like mine. He had seen many animals making hoof and paw prints but none made human foot prints. Let’s lay aside old notions.

    • dr howard says

      Issa is female…pronounced esha

  • Walter says

    For those not familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu (recast as Adam) is portrayed as being created of clay by a goddess in a location called Edin. He lives in Edin in a state of naked barbarism and ignorance. His companions are herbivore wild animals, wild bulls and antelope, with whom he eats grass and laps water at watering holes in the desert-like Edin (modern day Iraq). A hunter from the city of Uruk (Genesis’ Erech) attempts to trap Edin’s wild animals for a living. Enkidu sets free these animals. The hunter fears him as he is powerful and strong. Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, tells the hunter take a beautiful temple prostitute to Edin’s watering hole and await Enkidu’s arrival with his wild animal companions. She will strip naked and he will forsake his beasts to mate with her. When he attempts to return to his beasts they will flee from him and he will turn to the prostitute for companionship. She will then persuade him to leave Edin with her for the city of Uruk. No more beasts will be set free of the hunter’s traps. Edin’s naked man, Enkidu, learned in Edin, it was wrong to be naked, when he accepts the prostitute as his new companion, as she gives him some of her clothing to wear, and he dons them, before leaving Edin. They encounter a shepherds’ camp in Edin, they offer him wine and bread, he refuses to consume these items, he knows only to drink water and grass. Shamhat intervenes and tells him to consume the wine and bread and he obeys her. He thereupon is awarded a change of clothes by the shepherds and declared to be a civilized man and not a beast anymore, for civilized men, like gods, wear clothing and consume wine and bread, man-processed foods, denied to Edin’s wild animals. On his death bed Enkidu asks his patron god to curse the prostitute on his behalf, blaming her for his imminent death. His god upbraids him, saying she did you only good! she gave you a robe fit for a king to cover your nakedness, she fed you food fit for a god to consume (wine and bread), she introduced you to your beloved companion Gilgamesh! A contrite Enkidu withdraws the curse and blesses the prostitute. Enkidu’s curse of Shamhat was recast as God cursing Eve. Enkidu’s blaming the prostitute for his immenent death was recast as Adam balming Eve for God’s curse of Adam. The events which took place in Edin were recast as taking place a monotheistic ‘Eden.

  • Walter says

    By 1898-1899 Professor Morris Jastrow Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, had argued in an article published in a leading Academic Journal of the day, that Adam and Eve were recasts of Enkidu and Shamhat (his Eabani and Ukhat) appearing the Epic of Gilgamesh (his Epic of Izdubar). He acknowledged that Professor Archibald Henry Sayce of Oxford University, circa 1892, was probably correct in proposing that Adapa of Adapa and the South Wind Myth, was also recast into Genesis’ Adam. By 1858 Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson of the British Museum, London, had identified Eden’s serpent as a recast of the Babylonian god Ea (his Hea) of Eridu in ancient Sumer. By 1881 a German Professor Friedrich Heinrich Delitzcsh of Leipzig University had identified Sumer’s Edin as has having been recast as Genesis’ ‘Eden with its garden of God. A number of scholars agreed, Polytheism’s Edin had been recast into a Monotheistic ‘Eden, in order to refute the earlier myths explanations as to why man had been created and where. My website presents the research of these scholars (1858-1898, including up to 2017). The Mesopotamian myths have life beginning in world covered in water. Land emerges from the depths and the city of Eridu is created. The uncultivated desert land surrounding Eridu is called in Sumerian the EDIN. The gods of Edin create gardens filled with fruit trees, to provide food for themselves to consume. In the early myths they have fleshly bodies and experience hunger and can die of starvation if no food is eaten. Tiring of caring for their fruit tree gardens in the midst of the desert-like Edin, they make man of Edin’s clay to care for their gardens of Edin on their behalf. The gods’ gardens were watered by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers via irrigation canals and networks. They grew dates from date-palms, figs from fig trees, pomengrantes, apples, grapes, and wheat for making bread. The Bible informs us that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a fig, as Adam and Eve use fig leaves to clothe their nakedness. The Tree of Life was the Date-palm, as Genesis had Cherubim guarding this tree and Solomon’s temple was decorated with images of Datepalms and Cherubim. See my website for more info or by my book published in 2010, The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths. Illustrated with pictures of Edin’s Gods who were recast into Genesis’ God, Yahweh-Elohim. I show the locations of Edin’s gods’ gardens with maps. The Hebrews, denying the existence of other gods, denied that there were many gods’ city-gardens in Edin, there was only one gods’ garden in ‘Eden.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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