Saturday, January 28, 2012

Adam and Eve

The first post in this series can be found here.  

After reading an article by Jerome Gellman found here, contesting various interpretations of Genesis 2 and 3 by a multitude of feminists, I have come to the conclusion (although I must admit that this is the conclusion I held before being introduced to any feminist literature) that the story of Adam and Eve was never intended to be used as defense of feminism.  (On a side note, I have also found that rarely, if ever, the Bible can or should be used as a “proof text” for one’s opinions.  It is my opinion that if the Bible cannot be taken as truth, then it should not be used as a tool in argument.  It was written to be the complete truth and using bits and pieces will undoubtedly cause the passages to be taken out of context).  Despite the fact that I find the story of Adam and Eve to be unsporting of feminism, I will attempt to address the issues raised by feminists regard this passage.
        The various arguments I have come across can be condensed into 3: the meaning of the curse of Eve, the meaning of Eve being Adam’s “helper”, and the focus of the story being on men/women relations rather than sin.  It is important to note that the majority of the opinions I have read have attempted to argue that the Bible is both true* and in defense of feminism.  It is from their position that an obvious flaw arises.  By both accepting the Bible as factual and arguing that it is pro-feminism, one would be forced to choose which ideal is more important, and as a feminist, they usually choose the latter.  Regardless, I will examine each argument, show why it is incorrect, and then provide what I believe to be the appropriate way to answer their questions.  Also, I will not attempt to repeat their arguments (go ahead, read the article).

*By true I mean that they would argue that the stories in the Bible have been viewed as factual to its readers throughout history and therefore should be analyzed as such to understand the impact they have had.

The Curse of Eve
        To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16 NRSV)
        This passage has two main parts: the first in regards to childbearing, and the second regarding how Eve will now relate to Adam.  It is also important to note that these statements do not apply specifically to Eve, but to all women.  In regards to childbearing, few feminists have an objection.  They either view this as a punishment for sin, or as a condition of living in a fallen world.  Also, given the fact that this has nothing to do with Adam (although many contend that his punishment was far less severe) they have little reason to address it.  The primary argument comes from the last two lines, primarily the phrase “he shall rule over you.”  This statement is typically explained away using a bunch of Hebrew language semantics, or it is used as proof that life wasn’t meant to be this way (meaning men ruling over women).  I will first address the language side of the argument.
The first point to note is the fact than many portions of the Hebrew Bible (OT) are written in a form of poetry called “parallelism.”  In these sections, such as Genesis 3:16, the lines are grouped into pairs where the second line reflects upon, restates, or reinforces the idea in the first line.  Of the various feminist arguments I have read, many neglect this fact entirely.  They instead claim that the line “and he shall rule over you” is connected to Eve’s “desire” for her husband because Eve’s desire for him will be crushed by his dominance.  This seems like a much more “modern” way of reading these lines, without regard to the Hebrew writing style.  A much more fitting, and more accurate, way of understanding these lines is to interpret the word “desire” as not a sexual or relational desire, but as the same way it is translated in Genesis 4:7, which is a desire to rule over, to subvert, and to manipulate.  Obviously this interpretation causes problems for feminists in that it implies that Adam has the right to have power (since Eve will try to take it from him) and also that Eve will naturally attempt to harm or disrespect Adam in doing so.  Both assumptions are relatively anti-feminist.
The second argument feminists make using this text is that given the fact that Eve is being given a new set of standards in this statement, the old standards must have been different.  Or, as they argue, if Eve is now being put under the rule of her husband, then before the fall she must have been equal.  Much of this argument is largely dependent on conjecture rather than fact.  There is very little explanation about the relationship between Adam and Eve before the fall and while we would assume they were perfect (or, without sin), that doesn’t imply that a feminist’s idea of perfection (women being men’s equal in every regard) is the correct one.  We know that Adam was given control over the animals and the land, and that he and Eve were charged with subduing it.  While there is no explicit command for Adam to rule over or control Eve, her role as “helper” does give us a great deal of insight into what their relationship was like.  Given that this is the next problem feminists have in explaining the story of Adam and Eve, I will move on to that debate.

Eve the Helper
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ (Genesis 2:18 NRSV)
The word helper does not carry lofty connotations; especially when someone is created to be a “helper” as was the case for Eve.  While many feminists have tried to interpret this verse so that Eve does not appear to be created simply to “help” or “serve” Adam, I think that it is much better to accept the word “helper” rather than attempt to interpret differently.  I will, however, concede that there is an argument to be made regarding this word, one that David Freedman argues quite well by replacing “helper” with “strength or power equal to.”  Regardless, I think that referring to Genesis 1 (the creation story) provides overwhelming evidence that God created men and women not only equal, but also with distinguishable qualities that allow for a relationship to be much more fulfilling and glorifying to God than a “friendship” (between two completely equal people).
        The verse behind my argument (Genesis 1:27) describes the fact that God created both men and women in His own image.  What this means is that God imputed his own qualities into both men and women (and I think it is fairly obvious that he gave different qualities to each).  That is not to say that the differences between men and women indicate that he gave “better” qualities to one and  “worse” qualities to the other, but rather that both received qualities that, when properly complemented by the other, provide a picture of God himself (the image of God).  This is why we find marriage as a tool used throughout the Bible to describe God.  Viewed in this light, what was once an argument about male-domination is now focused on the importance God placed on humanity, by giving us some of his traits.  While both men and women will and have rejected or abused some, if not all, of these characteristics, to make the argument that one or the other is more valuable or powerful is illogical.  When viewing God’s creation of Eve for Adam the way He intended it to be viewed, I think it is obvious that seeking perfect “equality” for men and women is far less important than seeking perfect “union” between the two.

What does Sin have to do with it?
“Various attempts have been made to argue that the plain meaning of the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 supports a feminist, or at least a woman-friendly, understanding of the gender and sexual relationships between Adam and Eve.” (Gellman 1).
        Of the various feminist opinions on Genesis 2 and 3 that I have read, few of them mention sin as its overall meaning.  Typically, they claim that the story of Adam and Eve was the way the Hebrews explained their androcentric tendencies and patriarchal society.  By making this claim, it is relatively easy for them to then show that God created Adam and Eve “equal” and that men should not dominate women.  While many of these arguments make sense given their context, I believe that the story of Adam and Eve was never meant to be read in a feminist context and ultimately has very little to do with male/female relationships.  While it’s true that we can infer about the relationship Adam and Eve were intended to have, the second and third chapters in Genesis are primarily to explain humanity’s current condition—a sinful condition.
        Genesis 3 is the explanation of how sin entered the world.  Furthermore, the idea that this passage is primarily describing the foundation of sin in the world is referenced multiple times throughout the Bible (see Romans 5:12, 14, 18, 19, and 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22).  I think that given the fact that both a cursory reading of Genesis 3, as well as a study of the one of the overall themes of the Bible (man’s sinful nature), leads one to view this passage as talking primarily about sin, we should be slow to read it in any other light, specifically a man-made agenda.  While it is certainly important to view the Bible as a complex text (in which almost every passage can support various viewpoints), it’s also important to keep ourselves from reading it searching for evidence to support our own opinions.

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