The Creation of Woman in the Bible

Another look at the Adam and Eve story

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2016.—Ed.


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.

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


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


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  • 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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