Misogynist misinterpretations of the mythic fall of humankind in Genesis 3 led to the vilification of Ḥavvā (Eve), which fit with the disparaging of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, in the rabbinical tradition. The ensuing denigration of women throughout Christian history climaxed with the Inquisition’s torture and murder of thousands of women accused of witchcraft. Dr. Pamela Milne writes, “The story of Eve in the book of Genesis has had a more profoundly negative impact on women throughout history than any other biblical story.”
In this episode, Father Jayme explores contemporary reinterpretations of the heroic Ḥavvā, with the hope that she might experience the same vindication as Lilith. Drawing largely from the defense of Ḥavvā in an article in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism by Jewish feminist lawyer Sally Frank, he concurs with Dr. Phyllis Trible that Ḥavvā might be better viewed as “an intelligent, informed, perceptive…theologian, ethicist, hermeneut and rabbi.” Father Jayme concludes that extraordinary Catholics, understanding human nature and seeking not to use the Hebrew scriptures to perpetuate centuries-old systems of sexism and misogyny in the Church, might esteem Ḥavvā as a model of courage who took seriously her call to be a coworker of God and to help complete God’s good creation!
Have you seen the latest issue of Extraordinary Catholics magazine?
[Becky & Terry Ann 0:03]
Welcome to “Extraordinary Catholics,” a podcast for—you guessed it—extraordinary Catholics! In a world with over a billion ordinary Catholics, the Good Samaritans of Vatican-free Catholicism are truly extraordinary, seeking to model Jesus’ inclusive spirit and his discipleship of equals. Like Roman Catholicism, Inclusive Catholicism possesses valid lines of apostolic succession and shares valid sacraments. One in every ten adult Americans self-identifies as a former Roman Catholic. If we were to band together, we would form the second-largest religion in America. In Mexico, over 1,000 Roman Catholics leave the church every single day. To learn more about Inclusive Catholicism, please visit www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith, and join our Extraordinary Catholics Facebook group. And now, meet the host of Extraordinary Catholics, the pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, the only inclusive Catholic community in Austin, Texas: Father Jayme Mathias!
[Father Jayme Mathias 1:19]
Welcome, extraordinary Catholics! I am Father Jayme Mathias, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.
We thank the special saints who helped make this episode possible:
* Bishop Jerry Brohl of the Independent Roman Catholic Church in Wyandotte, Michigan;
* Bishop Kenny Von Folmar of Solomon’s Porch in Phoenix, Arizona, part of the Convergent Christian Communion;
* Bishop Theodore Feldman of the Sanctuary of Divine Providence in Birmingham, Alabama;
* Corey Hurt Montiel of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Very Reverend Ben Jansen of the Congregation of the Servants Minor in San Diego, California, part of the Progressive Catholic Church International;
* Pete & Maureen Tauriello of St. Francis of Assisi American National Catholic Church in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, the hosts of The Sonic Boomers podcast;
* Archbishop Alan Kemp of the Ascension Alliance in Gig Harbor, Washington;
* Rudy & Gloria Nieto of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas; and
* Bishop Michael Scalzi of TOCCUSA, the Old Catholic Church Province of the United States in Palmyra, Pennsylvania.
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Can I ask you a favor? Will you prayerfully consider sharing a quick rating and or review of this podcast? You are a saint!
Now, let’s continue our exploration of the theological foundations of Inclusive Catholicism!
Disinterpretation of the Genesis Story of the Fall of Humankind
In the last episode, I said that the Book of Genesis is important for Inclusive Catholics. As we discovered in the last episode, Genesis is important for its perspective on the creation of men and women—of humankind, with its unity in diversity. It’s also extremely important for its story of the fall of humankind, which, in an historic (and not historical) story has often been interpreted to blame one person, a woman, for all sin and evil that exists in our world.
As Inclusive Catholics, we recognize the sin and evil that entered our world as a result of the misinterpretations and the disinterpretations of this story. We know it as the story of Adam and Eve.
Ben Sira, the 2nd-century B.C. author of the book of Sirach, wrote, “From a woman, sin had its beginning, and, because of her, we all die” (Sir. 25:24). I see: So, because of one woman, we all die? Remember: The Bible is a book of theology, a book that tells us what our ancient ancestors believed about God, about themselves, and about their world. The Bible is not a book of history.
The pseudonymous author of the First Letter to Timothy, writing in Paul’s name, barred women from teaching or having authority over men, because, “Adam was not the one deceived. It was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (1Tim. 2:14). I see: So, the man wasn’t deceived, and the man didn’t eat the fruit?
In his 2nd-century work, De cultu feminarum (On Women’s Dress), Tertullian accusingly addressed Eve saying, “You are the one who opened the door to the Devil. You are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree. You are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, namely man” (De cultu feminarum, 1:1).
In the late 4th-century, Jerome (or Saint Jerome, if you prefer) was similarly insulting. Jerome wrote, “In those days, the virtue of continence was found only in men. Eve still continued to travail with children. Now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary, and thus the gift of virginity has been bestowed most richly upon women” (On Marriage and Virginity, 21).
At the end of the 4th-century, the Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (or Saint John Chrysostom, if you prefer) also used the story of Adam and Eve as a prooftext for his misogyny, his gynophobia, and his sexism. He wrote: “What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colors?” Come on, dude.
John’s Western contemporary, Ambrose of Milan (or Saint Ambrose, if you prefer) was kinder—or was he? He wrote that Eve was “a helper for the purpose of generating human nature,” and he concluded that “This, then, is the way in which a woman is a good helper of less importance.” A good helper of less importance? I’m embarrassed to even repeat such words! Recall what we said in the last episode of the Hebrew word ezer, and of God being Israel’s help.
Thomas Aquinas (or Saint Thomas Aquinas, if you prefer) similarly used this pericope of Adam and Eve as a prooftext in the “straw” that he called his Summa Theologica. He wrote that women are “misbegotten males,” defective by nature and born female for reasons ranging from maternal disposition to a moist south wind. For this misogynist, women are necessary for breeding but “naturally of less strength and dignity than man.” Sheesh.
Less than two centuries later, such thinking would be reflected in the Malleus Maleficarum, The Hammer Against Witches, a 15th-century work that drew on Genesis 3 to justify the Inquisition’s persecution of women as witches. In the decades following its publication, thousands of women were executed. From Eve, to the persecution of women as witches!
And if only we could say that this violence against women ended in the 15th century!
In a 1989 editorial in the Washington Post, Dr. Pamela Milne, a professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Windsor in Ontario, observes that, “The themes of inferiority, evil and seductiveness continued to be emphasized in the writings of Luther, Calvin and Knox, and remain disturbingly prominent in the 20th century, in places as diverse as papal encyclicals and TV fundamentalist preaching.” To be clear, misogyny, gynophobia and sexism sadly persist in the world and in the Church today.
Dr. Milne continues: “The story of Eve in the book of Genesis has had a more profoundly negative impact on women throughout history than any other biblical story… Early Christian writers depicted Eve as subordinate and inferior to Adam—because she was created after and from him—and as weak, seductive and evil, the cause of Adam's disobedience.…She was also held up as the paradigm for the evil inherent in all women -- except of course for Mary, the mother of Jesus, who later became the paradigm for idealized womanhood. These concepts formed the basis for later deprecatory patriarchal Christian theologies of women.”
So, let’s explore the story of the fall in Genesis 3.
Genesis was Written in Ancient Hebrew
Can we begin by agreeing that the Hebrew scriptures were not written in English? In the seminary, I had a friend, Scott, who liked to say in a great, Southern accent: “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!” Yes, we have translated Jesus’ words to English, but Jesus (or Yēšūaʿ, in his language) did not speak English. In fact, English hadn’t been invented yet! Yēšūaʿ principally spoke Aramaic, we believe, and those who read the scriptures in Yēšūaʿ’s time typically did so either in Hebrew, the language in which many of the books were written, (hence, the name “the Hebrew Scriptures”), or in Greek, the language to which those books were being translated since the third century B.C. So, unless you’re reading the Hebrew Scriptures in Hebrew, you’re reading a translation. And anyone who knows more than one language knows that there are various ways of translating different words and phrases, and there are errors that occur in translation. The Italian phrase traduttore, traditore (“the translator is a traitor”) notes how translators, in their very task of translating, betray the original meaning of the messages they attempt to translate.
So, the Book of Genesis was written in ancient Hebrew. As a result, the names of the purported first couple were not Adam and Eve—their names in English. In Hebrew, they were Adam and Ḥavvā. Ḥavvā was translated to Latin as Eva, and subsequently to English as Eve. But what was her name in Hebrew? Ḥavvā! That’s the word you see in Hebrew and in its English transliteration in the title of this episode.
The Serpent Went Straight to the "CEO"
You recall that Ḥavvā was the female who resulted from the split of the first earth creature, the gynandromorph or the androgynos, Adam. The ahistorical story in Genesis 3 begins with a serpent, the personification of evil. The serpent approaches Ḥavvā and not Adam, the man who resulted from the split, and, as a result, the Christian tradition has tended to blame a woman—or women—for sin and evil, two reifications whose existence have yet to be verified by science.
We recognize, of course, that no serpent has been found to possess vocal cords or to speak any human language, so this story clearly possesses mythic elements. We do well to ask why the servant approached Ḥavvā and not Adam. Was it because, as Rabbi Rashi suggested, that women are more “easily influenced and know how to influence their husbands”? Or, as Rabbi Sforno suggested, was it due to women’s “weak intellect”? In her work, In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah, Judith Antonelli, associate editor of the Jewish Advocate, is not shy in advancing the opposite. The serpent approached the woman, Ḥavvā, due to her higher spiritual nature and her greater closeness to God.
Recall Antonelli’s arguments in the last episode, in favor of the superiority of women based on Genesis 2 to 3 and on human biology. Antonelli says, Think of it this way: The serpent went right to the top! The serpent didn’t approach the waiter; the serpent asked for the manager. Or better said, the serpent went straight to the CEO of the company!
Consider this: The name Ḥavvā is comprised of three Hebrew letters: het, vav and heh. The het is like the “ch” in Chanukah. The vav and heh, which might be transliterated as V and H, are the last two characters for the name of God, the VH in the Tetragrammaton’s YHVH, the unspeakable name for Yahweh that, in Jewish tradition, is never to be written out in full or pronounced as written (the word that was translated in the Septuagint as kurios, meaning “Lord” and is often written in the Scriptures as LORD, in all caps). Eve (Ḥavvā) and God (Yahweh) end with the same two Hebrew characters, indicating the level of godliness in woman that is not found in man!
In fact, the Genesis Rabbah of the fourth and fifth centuries suggested that, when the serpent approached Eve, Adam was asleep, a sign of his lower consciousness and lesser mental capacity.
Consider how rabbis interpreted this text: God told the gynandromorph, the androgynos: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Gen. 2:16-17). After the gynandromorph or androgynos had separated, Ḥavvā (Eve) went further, expressing her understanding to the serpent: “God said, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:3). Ḥavvā (Eve) understood that they couldn’t even touch the tree! The Genesis Rabbah imagines the serpent pushing Eve against the tree, such that she noticed that she could touch the tree without dying (Genesis Rabbah, 19:3). If she could touch it, perhaps she could eat it, too!
Human Beings Always Choose What Appears Most Good
We understand that the story of the fall is, of course, an etiological explanation for many things: why we die, why we wear clothes, why we work the land, why women have labor pains. It’s also an etiological explanation for evil inclinations in human nature. And this is important for Inclusive Catholics.
Inclusive Catholics understand human nature. We believe that God created the world good (Gen. 1:4, 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25). God created the world good!
And God created the human person, which is blessed by God (Gen. 1:28) and which is inherently good (Gen. 1:31). So, how do we explain what we see in this story?
In every instance, a human being will always, always choose that which appears to be “good” to him or her or them—in any situation. Why does the child watching TV or playing video games ignore the parent’s plea to take out the garbage? Because she or he or they are choosing a perceived “good”? Why do children lie about broken lamps and windows? They’re choosing the apparent “good” of avoiding punishment!
When I preach on the lure of sin, I literally hold up a fishing lure. Fish don’t bite at empty hooks; there’s no perceived “good” there, but once we wrap that hook with a worm, or once we put a lure on the line, that fish sees…dinner!
People don’t become alcoholics because they’re thirsty. People don’t smoke because they enjoy holding a tube of tobacco in their lips. People don’t become drug addicts because they enjoy snorting things up their nose or poking themselves with needles. They’re chasing what they perceive to be a "good." They see the “lure,” and sometimes they become hooked.
Rather than judge and condemn others, as many ordinary Catholics do, we have the opportunity to view all humans, all individuals, through lenses of compassion, as we attempt to understand the “good” they’re pursuing in any instance. Why is he sharing gossip? Why is she lying? Why are they unfaithful? Human beings are hardwired to choose the perceived “good” in any situation—which is what we see in the story of Ḥavvā, of Eve.
If science produced a fruit that could give a person immediate knowledge, with absolutely no side effects, tell me you wouldn’t be one to try it as well! In every instance, you always choose what you perceive to be “good”! And, if you don’t eat that fruit, it’s because you perceive it to be a higher “good” not to eat that fruit. Human beings always choose what they believe to be “good.”
One of the things that makes us extraordinary Catholics is that we don’t blame or judge or condemn others for their humanness. We aren’t like Adam, shifting the blame and pointing our fingers to everyone else but ourselves, first to Eve then to God (Gen. 3:12, “the woman you put here”). Instead, we are compassionate, and we try to understand the reasons for which people say and do the things they say and do, which, in the moment, they perceived as an apparent “good.”
From "the Woman & Her Husband" to "The Man & His Wife"
Christianity has painted Eve as a temptress, as seducing Adam into eating the fruit, but read the text: “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen. 3:6). Note that, though the serpent lied to Eve, Eve did not lie to Adam. In fact, it’s pointed out in many translations that the words “was with her” has been omitted in order to shift the blame to Ḥavvā, to Eve. Antonelli says, “Eve shared with him the fruit, and, like any man when a plate of food is placed before him, he unquestioningly ate it.”
Notice that, up to this point in Genesis 3, the newly-created couple is referred to as “the woman and her husband” (Gen. 3:6), indicating Eve’s primacy. Hmm. After the forbidden fruit (which was first referred to as an apple in John Milton’s 1667 work, Paradise Lost, but is regarded by Jews to be a citron, a grape or a fig), the couple became known in subsequent verses as “the man and his wife” (Gen. 3:8). From “the woman and her husband,” to “the man and his wife.” Various voices within feminist liberation theology point out that a true sign of the dawning of the messianic era will be when male/female relations are restored, from “the man and his wife,” which characterizes much of our world today, to “the woman and her husband,” which characterized paradise before the fall.
In Defense of Eve
So, is there any way that we might save Ḥavvā (Eve) and her stained reputation?
In the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Sally Frank, a Jewish feminist lawyer, argues that Eve was right to eat the fruit. She notes the traditional depiction of Eve as the prototypical woman who was ignorant and easily duped by a wily serpent, and who, in turn, seduced her husband, thus bringing on the fall of humanity.
Sally Frank writes, “Men in Western culture have used this story for millennia to explain and justify the subservient position of females in society. They have claimed that women like Eve are easily duped into committing wrongful acts and should therefore be under the tight control of their husbands or fathers. Eve is the source and symbol of many of the negative traits assigned to women. The story of Eve has been used to justify the punishment of women throughout history. Given an opportunity to stand before a tribunal herself, it seems unlikely that Eve would be able to escape punishment.”
The Vindication of Lilith
Sally Frank imagines Eve coming to a lawyer’s office seeking vindication after 5,756 years of vilification. Why would Eve think that there is any hope in relieving her of guilt? Because of the vindication of…Lilith!
Lilith was the name that rabbis assigned to the woman in the Priestly creation story in Genesis 1. God created them male and female (Gen. 1:27). Because this Priestly account in Genesis 1 comes before the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, rabbis asserted that Lilith refused to be topped by Adam, or, if you prefer, that she refused to sleep beneath him or to accept any position of servitude or inequality. So, Lilith left the Garden of Eden.
In their midrash, rabbis suggested that this relationship between Adam and Lilith led Adam to say in Genesis 2:23, “Now this one is bone of my bone,” to suggest that Adam was with someone before Adam was with Ḥavvā.
If you like a good soap opera, don’t worry: Adam and Lilith would be reunited! In the rabbinic tradition, Adam separated from Eve for 130 of his 930 years, during which time he consorted with Lilith again—until Adam fell in love again with Ḥavvā.
This midrash and these rabbinical stories were influenced by folklore. From the sixth century B.C. on, the Jewish imagination was influenced by a myth that didn’t make it into the Bible, except tangentially, in Deutero Isaiah 34:14, which speaks of how Babylon would incur God’s ruinous wrath, being reduced to a desert inhabited only by satyrs and the night monster, the night demon that lurks. In some translations of the Bible, that night demon had a name: Lilith!
Our Jewish ancestors learned of her during the Babylonian exile, where they heard stories of the Babylonian demon, Lilith. The Zohar Leviticus, written around 1280 as the foundation of the Kabbalah, describes Lilith as a “hot, fiery female spirit” from “the depths of the great abyss.”
Lilith appeared as Adam’s first wife in Goethe’s 1808 work, Faust. Listen to the dialogue.
Faust: Who’s that there?
Mephistopheles: Take a good look. It’s Lilith!
Faust: Lilith? Who is that?
Mephistopheles: Adam’s wife, his first. Beware of her. Her beauty's one boast is her dangerous hair. When Lilith winds it tight around young men, she doesn't soon let go of them again!
Conveniently, Lilith was the etiological explanation for male nocturnal emissions—"wet dreams”—and for men who died in their sleep. Follow me now: Sex Ed 101 tells us that the male human produces sperm from puberty until old age. Unlike women, who experience menopause at an average age of 51, men continue to produce a sperm, which is why the world record for the oldest father is currently held by a 96-year-old man. The male body must release this sperm, and it does so through ejaculation (if a man is awake) or through nocturnal emissions—"wet dreams” (if a man is asleep). And so, in an age before we understood the male body, nocturnal emissions were blamed on Lilith, who, dressed in her fine robes and with her beautiful hair, seduced men in their sleep! Even the Shabbat warned: “Whoever sleeps in a house alone is seized by Lilith” (Shabbat 151b).
With respect to men dying in their sleep, it was believed that Lilith’s beautiful face was also a mask for the angel of death, a fierce, murderous warrior whose sword dripped with poison. Yikes. The Lilith myth was important: The tale of her was part of an evolving norm of polygyny, since even Adam had two women—but we’ll come back to that in the next episode. In this episode, with the villainization of Eve, we note how Lilith was similarly villainized, how women were villainized! Lilith was a femme fatale, a night demon, sucking the vital fluids from men, causing them to be impure and even stealing babies in the night.
Do Lilith’s actions sound familiar? She inspired certain vestiges of vampirism: sucking vital fluids from people in the night, thus causing their deaths.
And a bit of trivia: In C.S. Lewis’ 1950 work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver suggests that the main antagonist, the White Witch, descended from Lilith.
Antonelli asks: With stories of Eve and Lilith, could anyone be surprised that, as a result, many of our sisters internalized self-hatred in a system of male supremacy?
The Insanity Defense: No Vindication of Eve
Back to Sally Frank. In approaching a defense attorney, why would Eve have any hope of being acquitted of guilt, especially when she was responsible for nothing less than, you guessed it, the 4th-century concept of original sin. Eve brought sin and death into the world, right?
Are you ready for the redemption of Eve?
In the Gnostic tradition, in the view of dissenting Christians of the second century, the desire for knowledge could not be the root of sin, because the Gnostics sought redemption through gnosis, through special knowledge, and so Eve represented for them feminine spiritual power and spiritual awakening. Eve possessed a desire to be closer to God and to improve the human condition! For this reason, poet Miriam Oren admired Eve as a model of righteousness, strength and courage.
Sally Frank first dismisses common defense arguments, noting the impossibility of clearing Eve through claims of duress, self-defense, or the idea that someone else might have done it (the popular SODDI defense: Some Other Dude Did It). Possible defenses then include insanity.
I share Frank’s defense: “The prosecution has alleged and we concede that God ordered Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Right and Wrong. We also concede that Eve in fact ate of the fruit of that tree, despite God's command. What, then, is at issue in this case? The only issue is whether Eve is responsible for her actions. The judge will tell you that a person is not legally responsible for his or her actions if that person has a mental disease or defect that prevented him or her from distinguishing between right and wrong. The evidence has shown that Eve did have a mental disease or defect. She has testified that she only ate the fruit because a snake told her to do it. When was the last time that a snake spoke to you? Can you possibly believe that a snake actually spoke to Eve? Or is it more likely that Eve's encounter with the snake was the hallucination of a disturbed mind? …You, members of the jury, cannot believe that the snake actually spoke to Eve, even though she sincerely believes that she heard it. That hallucination constitutes the evidence of a mental disorder. The disorder prevented Eve from understanding the nature and the quality of her actions. The snake told Eve that her information was wrong and that she really could eat the fruit of the tree. Eve followed that advice. We may never know what caused Eve to believe that a snake was speaking to her, but that hallucination is what caused her to violate the law. She cannot be held responsible for her actions when they were caused by a hallucination.”
What do you think of that defense? Sally Frank has a problem with it, since the defense attorney in this case knows that the serpent really spoke with Eve in this story. Also, the claim of insanity does not vindicate Eve, right?
The Infancy Defense: Still No Vindication of Eve
What about the infancy defense? Young children can’t be convicted guilty of serious crimes because they are incapable of fully understanding their actions or of determining right from wrong. The problem: Our stories assume that Adam and Eve were created as adults, not as infants.
Sally Frank says the defense, though, might go like this: “The sole issue in dispute in this case is whether Eve, because of her youth and immaturity, was unable to distinguish right from wrong to such an extent that she should be acquitted of this charge. When you look at Eve, you see a fully-grown woman. This might make it hard for you to think of her as young. Yet the evidence showed that Eve ate the fruit on the very same day that she was created. God created man and woman on the sixth day of creation. On the seventh day, God created the Sabbath by resting. Eve ate the fruit before that first Sabbath. Thus, Eve was less than one day old when she committed the offense charged in this case. That is only part of the story here, though. The other question is whether Eve understood the difference between right and wrong. Members of the jury, that is the easy question. Let us look back closely at the evidence. God ordered Adam not to eat of the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” After Adam and Eve both ate that fruit, God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden. From this comment by God, you can see that Eve did not know good from evil until after she ate the fruit. It was at that point that God said she knew the difference. Before Eve ate the fruit, she was like most young children. She was told not to do something but did not understand the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, and so she did it anyway. Thus, it is clear that Eve was a young child at the time of this incident, one who could not distinguish right from wrong until after she committed the offense. Eve therefore asks you to find her not guilty of this crime.”
Sally Frank notes that this defense may not be enough to acquit Eve, and may receive a mixed reaction from the jury.
The Defense of Necessity or Justification: The Vindication of Eve!
So, now we come to the defense of necessity or justification, which states that a person may be justified in breaking the law when a more important value is at stake. Lawyers use this defense in cases of emergency, when problems can only be resolved through illegal means that might ameliorate the situation. This argument is often used in cases of civil disobedience: Demonstrators argue that their sit-in or blockade was necessary to prevent a greater wrong of the government’s actions.
God commanded Eve not to eat the fruit. So, how could she be justified in eating it? Sally Frank’s argument goes like this: “Members of the jury, Eve stands here accused of violating God’s law not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of right and wrong. The question you are to determine today is whether that law was, in fact, unbending and intended to last for eternity, or whether God wanted that law to pass away eventually. If you come to agree with Eve that this was only a temporary law, you will find that she was justified in eating the fruit. What evidence, you might ask, is there that God did not intend this to be a permanent law? You will recall that God created heaven, earth, and all that is therein in six days. On the seventh day, God rested from these labors. Why did God rest? The most obvious answer was to show humanity the importance of rest and to institute the Sabbath day. Commentary suggests another reason: God stopped the work of creation in order to leave it to humanity to finish that work. The Hebrew words used in Genesis 2:3 actually translate to mean ‘all God's work that God created to do.’ Ibn Ezra and Radak understand this final verb as connoting ‘for [humans] to continue to do thenceforth.’ Thus, humanity was to become a co-worker with God in completing the work of creation. Eve understood that she and Adam were intended to be God’s co-workers. She faced a question, however. How could she act as God’s partner if she did not know the difference between right and wrong? Eve and Adam were, after all, created in God’s image. Knowing that, Eve agreed with the serpent that she needed the knowledge of good and evil that God had, so that she could work with God in perfecting the world and eliminating its evil.
“Now you may be thinking, ‘But Eden was paradise! How could there have been any evil there?’ True, Adam and Eve also believed at first that Eden was paradise. They were like young children who had everything they needed provided for them by God, their parent. Most young children at first think that they are in paradise. As they grow older, however, they come to recognize that there are problems in their world. That recognition causes them to seek the wisdom, to understand and correct those problems. Like a child starting to learn and see the world, Eve sought that wisdom. Eve then saw that ‘the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom.’ She responded by tasting the fruit, hoping to gain the understanding of right and wrong that would let her take her place as a partner with God in the perfection of the world.
“Now, maybe you're thinking, ‘If that was God’s real plan, why did God order Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit?’ To understand this order, you should recognize that Adam and Eve were young children at the time. God was concerned that Adam and Eve could not handle the responsibility of knowing right from wrong at their young age. Just as a parent might tell a young child not to touch an oven without intending that the prohibition last a lifetime, God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit intending the commandment to last only until they were old enough to handle the responsibility. With knowledge of right and wrong comes the obligation to choose right, to choose good over evil.
“God sets out that duty and the consequences of the wrong choice starkly in Deuteronomy, as a matter of life and death for humanity. You remember the stirring words from the Bible: ‘Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day to love your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God's commandments, God’s laws, and God’s rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that your God may bless you....I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving your God, heeding God’s commands, and holding fast to God. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil’ (Dt. 30:11-18).
“God hoped that Adam and Eve would not eat the fruit until they were mature enough to be able to choose right over wrong, so that they might live and endure; only then would God be able to determine whether they would use the knowledge to work ‘with or against God.’ Eve knew that she was ready. In fact, the Bible relates no sins or criminal acts by Eve or Adam after they ate the fruit. Thus, Eve was correct in concluding that she could handle the obligations that come with the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong.
“If Eve was only following God’s ultimate will to be a co-worker in the ongoing job of completing and perfecting creation, why did God punish her? To answer this question, we need to look closely at God’s responses to the serpent and to Adam and Eve. In so doing, it becomes clear that God did not in fact punish Eve. Rather, God enunciated what would happen to her regardless of her actions.
“You may ask, ‘Why was the serpent cursed if he only persuaded Eve to do what God wanted her to do eventually?’ The serpent was punished because of his motives. He did not act to enable Adam and Eve to be God’s co-workers in completing creation. He acted out of jealousy towards Adam and slandered God when he approached Eve. He wanted to harm Adam and tried to reach Adam through Eve. For that, he was cursed.
“Now let us turn to Eve’s alleged punishment. God first told Eve that she would have pain in childbirth. As the first woman, Eve was destined to be the mother of all humanity. In fact, this is implied by her Hebrew name, Kheva, related to Khay, which means ‘life.’ Also, God’s first command to humanity was ‘be fruitful and increase.’ Thus, human sexuality and the procreation that can result from it are ‘a blessed gift from God woven into the fabric of life.’ Eve’s body was formed in such a way that she would be the one to give birth. God only told her what would naturally occur during birth, namely pain.
“If God wasn't really punishing Eve, why did [God] say, ‘Your urge shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you?’ Men saw this story as an excuse to rule over women, and they took it. God recognized that men would do this and warned Eve....
“Many may view mortality as part of the punishment, yet this is not part of the story. Adam and Eve had not eaten the fruit of the tree of life, so they were not immortal when they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. One Christian interpretation is to view the death associated with eating the fruit as both spiritual and physical. Jews have rejected this view, which formed the basis of the concept of original sin.
“Finally, the expulsion from the Garden could also be seen as a punishment, though it was not. As I’ve already discussed, thinking Eden was paradise was merely an illusion created by youth and naiveté. Once Eve and Adam ate the fruit, they could see the landscape as it really was. They lived not in paradise, but in an imperfect world created by God. As adults, they needed to recognize that fact. Eating the fruit enabled Eve and Adam to become ‘creatures of culture.’ Having obtained knowledge of right and wrong, they could work to perfect that world by eliminating the evil they saw. Their departure from the Garden was, therefore, a natural part of maturing, rather than a punishment.
“Members of the jury, upon understanding the purpose of humanity and Eve’s courageous effort to carry out that purpose, Eve hopes that you will find that she acted correctly out of necessity and acquit her of the charges that have been raised against her for millennia.”
Eve: A Role Model, Not a Criminal Foremother
Sally Frank concludes that this defense, if it works—and yes, there are holes that could be poked into it—serves not only Eve’s acquittal, but also her vindication. Sally Frank writes, “If others accept the view of Eve’s actions presented in the justification defense, women will benefit. The disabilities foisted upon women that are based on the demonization of Eve lose their foundation upon Eve’s vindication. Instead of having a criminal foremother, humanity has a mother who is a role model, having risked everything to become a true partner in the work of creation and to take her part in perfecting the world.”
Dr. Phyllis Trible similarly overturns the traditionally-negative view of Eve, describing Eve as “an intelligent, informed, perceptive theologian, ethicist, hermeneut and rabbi” who speaks with “clarity and authority” and who acts independently, but without deception.
Mashal v. Malakh: Men "Ruling Over" Women?
Finally, we need to address that mistaken notion that, as a result of the purported fall, men will "rule over" women (Gen. 3:16). If you’re not reading this passage in Hebrew, you need to know one thing: The Hebrew word that is translated “to rule” in this instance is mashal and not malakh.
Malakh, the word that’s not used here, means “to rule by domination.” The Hebrew word for “king” (melekh) comes from this root. The king (melekh) exercises dominating rule (malakh).
Mashal is different. It implies affinity or complementarity. Mashal is found in Genesis 1:16, which says that the sun will rule (mashal) over the day. This doesn’t mean that the sun has dominance over the day, that the sun will rule the day like a king ordering around his subjects. It means that the sun and the day are complementary qualities. They go together. They have an affinity for one another. Genesis 1:16 also says that the moon will rule (mashal) over the night. This doesn’t mean that the moon has dominance over the night, that the moon will rule the night like a queen ordering around her subjects. It means that the moon and the night are complementary qualities. They go together. They have an affinity for one another. In the ancient cosmology, each planet ruled (mashal) over a constellation. They went together. There is no suggestion of domination in any of these instances of mashal, which is often translated as “rule.”
Genesis 3:16 might just as easily have been translated, “Your desire will be for your husband, your complimentary quality, with whom you share an affinity.” This complementarity was expressed by 4th- and 5th-century rabbis in their midrash on this text. They said, “The woman desires her husband, like the rain desires the earth, like God desires God’s people” (Genesis Rabbah, 27). There is no domination in these images.
So, guys, if you’re seeking to dominate women, stop already! Love and relationship are not a hunt, a chase, a conquest, and the Genesis creation story attempts to lift us to a higher plane! This interpretation is in line with the harmony presented in the creation story of Genesis 1.
Extraordinary Catholics Don't Blame Eve or Women for Reified Notions of Sin & Evil
I conclude. Ordinary Catholics scapegoat Ḥavvā (Eve)—or women—for reified notions of sin and evil in this world. Ordinary Catholics use prooftexts from the Hebrew scriptures to exclude and marginalize others and to justify their misogyny, their gynophobia and male superiority. Let’s not be ordinary Catholics.
Let’s be…extraordinary Catholics!
[Terry Ann & Becky]
Thank you for joining us for Extraordinary Catholics podcast with Father Jayme Mathias! Check out our directory of over 2,000 Inclusive Catholic clergy at www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith. Have an extraordinary day!